Art Treasures of Washington – Casts And The Greek Slave

CASTS from masterpieces of antique and Renaissance sculpture form an important feature of the collections of the Corcoran Gallery, and are effectively displayed in the spacious atrium, where they serve a double purpose of use and decoration.

Around the cornice of the south end of the Statuary Hall are placed about three-fifths of the casts from the original marbles of the Frieze of the Parthenon. The reliefs, commencing with that nearest to the main entrance, present an unbroken line of young horsemen sweeping along, with here and there a dismounted group, varying the action of the cavalcade, following the arrangement of the originals. After these, and extending to the main staircase on the west, are broken groups representing seated deities, virgins with sacrificial oxen and charioteers.

Casts of the famous so-called Elgin Marbles, preserved in the British Museum, are displayed as nearly as possible in the relative positions which these fragments, designed by Phidias, occupied in the pediments of the immortal structure. The marbles take their name from Lord Elgin, the British ambassador to the Porte, who brought them to England after years of greatest vicissitudes, occasioning him vast expenditures of money. He sold them to the British Museum for £35,000, a sum less than half what the collection had cost him, and it is now regarded as the chief treasure of that institution.

Eight slabs of the Metopes of the Parthenon, from the original marbles in the British Museum, portray the contest between the Centaurs and Lapithae at the marriage feast of Peirithoös.

The collection of casts of single figures is comprehensive, including the Venus of Melos, the Discobolos of the Vatican, the Capitoline Venus, the Venus de Medici, Germanicus, Antinous of the Capitol, Silenus Holding the Infant Bacchus, Apollo Belvidere, the Torso of Hercules, Diana Huntress, Nike from Samothrace, and many other famous examples of the sculpture of antiquity. The collection numbers about one hundred and thirty-five casts.

The collection of casts from Renaissance sculpture has been well chosen, and includes many important examples of the French and Italian sculpture of that prolific period. It includes a reproduction of the famous west gate of the Baptistry at Florence, made by Lorenzo Ghiberti (1378-1455), and interesting as representing, with its mate, the chief work of a distinguished artist’s life. Ghiberti commenced these gates at the age of forty-six years ‘ and finished them when he was an old man of seventy-four. They have served as models for all the gates that have been made since, and have never been equalled or even approached.

A fair idea of the extraordinary genius of Jean Goujon (1530-1572) may be gleaned from the casts of many of his masterpieces here preserved. The Gallery owns reproductions of the nine bas-reliefs of nymphs from the Fountain of the Innocents, which still ornament that famous fountain on an old market place in Paris; reliefs of the four evangelists from the roodloft of the Eglise Saint Germain de l’Auxerrois (now in the Louvre) ; reliefs of sea nymphs and from the tomb of Cardinal and Chancellor Duprat.

” The Three Graces,” by Germain Pilon, was executed at the command of Catherine de Medici, as a memorial to her husband Henry II of France. His heart was to have been placed in the urn, supported on the heads of the three female figures, who stand back to back, with linked hands, upon a triangular pedestal of great beauty. These figures represent the Queen herself, the Duchesse d’Etampes and Madame Villeroy, three of the fairest women of that time. The monument formerly stood in the Chapelle d’Orleans, in the Church of the Célestins.

Of Michael Angelo, the most famous of the sculptors of the Italian Renaissance, there is his colossal head of David ; the two slaves for the tomb of Julius II, preserved in the Louvre; the Cupid, from the South Kensington Museum; the sitting statue of Lorenzo de Medici from the Capella Medici, in the Church of San Lorenzo, in Florence; the Pietà, from Saint Peter’s, in Rome, and other fragments.

Other fine and useful casts include the ” Flying Mercury ” of Gian Bologna, ” David with Head of Goliath” by Donatello, various fragments of Mina da Fiesole, Luca della Robbia, and Benvenuto Cellini. The whole collection numbers about fifty good examples.

The Greek Slave

The general collection of sculpture at the Cor-coran Gallery is inconsiderable. The nucleus was received with the original gift and consisted of three pieces by Hiram Powers, one by Rinehart and another by Alexander Galt.

The clou of the collection is, of course, the ” Greek Slave” of Hiram Powers (1805-1873), which has always been one of the leading popular attractions of the Gallery. The original was made in 1843, but despite the fact that many copies were made of it, this is the only one in the United States accessible to the public to-day. It was made in his studio in Florence, where Powers resided the last half of his life, and where he became the friend of Nathaniel Hawthorne and Elizabeth Barrett Browning, taking his place in the cultured foreign life of the city. Hawthorne’s ” Italian Notes ” are full of kindly references to the sculptor, while Mrs. Browning apostrophized his statue in a few fervid lines.

Public sympathy in the contemporary struggle of Greece for independence was the all important factor in the immediate success of the ” Greek Slave,” which was received by an emotionally sympathetic public as symbolic of the oppressed country from which it took its name. Its fame preceded its exhibition at the great international exposition of London, in 1851, where its success was over-whelming, and where it was regarded by the Britishers as the one work of art by an American creditable to the country. Two years later, it was again the centre of interest ,at the first World’s Fair, in New York, and was enthusiastically believed to be the most remarkable work of art known to history.

Some six or eight copies of the figure came from Powers’ studio : the first was sold to Captain Grant for $4,000, and is now in the possession of the Duke of Cleveland. The second is the replica owned by the Corcoran Gallery. It was brought to this country in 1847. The third copy belongs to the Earl of Dudley, while the fourth, purchased by Prince Demidoff for $4,000, was sold at that nobleman’s death for $11,000 to A. T. Stewart of New York.