The monument located at the grounds of Shugborough Hall in Staffordshire, England, was commissioned by Thomas Anson, paid for by his brother, Admiral George Anson, and fashioned by the Flemish sculptor Peter Scheemakers.
It is set within a stone arch which appears like an entrance to a cave, carved to look natural and wild. It contains a marble bas-relief copy of Poussin’s painting “The Shepherds of Arcadia” and a carved inscription below it.
The relief shows a woman and three shepherds, two of whom are pointing to a tomb. On the tomb is carved the Latin text ET IN ARCADIA EGO ("I am also in Arcadia" or "I am, even in Arcadia").
The carving displays a number of small alterations from the original painting.
Notably, the letters to which the shepherds are pointing have been changed, and an extra sarcophagus has been placed on top of the main tomb.
Also, the relief sculpture is a mirror (or horizontally reversed) image of the painting. Above the Poussin scene are two stone heads, one of which bears a strong likeness to the goat-horned Greek god Pan.
Below it, an unknown craftsman carved the mysterious inscription, a sequence of ten letters that has never been satisfactorily explained, and has been called one of the world's top uncracked cipher texts.
Dating the Monument.
The monument has been dated by various writers to almost any year from 1748 to 1767. The most frequently quoted explanation of the monument is that it is a work by Thomas Wright, from 1748-50 with additions by James Stuart in about 1763.
There is however a good reason to suppose that the Shepherds Monument was not there in 1748.
Philip Yorke, Lady Elizabeth Anson’s brother and husband of Jemima, Marchioness Grey, visited in August 1763 and wrote to his father, Lord Hardwicke describing, as he writes, the “many embellishments since I saw it (Shugborough) in 1748.”
“I should not omit to mention the Bas Relief from Poussin’s Arcadian Picture, the most elegant Piece of modern sculpture I ever beheld & does great honour to Scheemaker’s chisel…”
Also, recent research has found that the first known mention of the monument is in a letter from Lady Elizabeth Anson, the wife of Admiral George Anson, to her brother-in-law Thomas in 1756. This means that the monument must have been constructed on or before 1756.
This limits the possible date of the monument’s construction from between 1749 to 1756. These years are important as it is during these years that one very enigmatic figure entered the lives of the Anson family who could have been the reason for the construction of the monument.
This person is none other than the Count of St. Germain.