The department of original sculpture virtually begins where the department of casts of sculpture leaves off. It is, however, in embryonic state, the objects not even being gathered together in one hall, but placed here and there in handy corners.
With a few exceptions of earlier original work the sculptures of the Museum reveal the temper and life of the present day. Some are vapid, others imitative or declamatory, or again they are filled with the beauty of material or literary suggestiveness. Modern sculpture may not have the deep historical and deep ethical significance of classic times, much of it still unfolds latent harmonies, and its communications, expressed in familiar physical forms, are simple and direct.
The far superiority of the original over the cast is apparent in the few early originals that are shown. None of these is of supreme importance, or rather, is by a supreme master, yet the comparison insists how in the plaster reproduction the change of material has disturbed the subtlety of the author’s creation.
We find first a bronze bust of Pope Innocent X at top of the staircase, attributed to Alessandro Algardi. The bust is a life-size portrait of the Pope, with carlotte on the head, and an embroidered cape around the shoulders, the design of the embroidery embracing the olive branches, dove and fleur-de-lis of the Panfili family of which he was a member. The face is bearded, a kindly thoughtful look rests on the brow and in the eyes, while the mouth is firmly set. It has the appearance of being a good portrait, and must have been made by a man belonging to the 17th century of Italian decadence.
Nino Pisano belonged to that great family of sculptors, the Pisani, who in the 14th century retained, despite the Gothic influences under which they wrought, much of the grace and delicacy of the earlier period. His ” Statue of Temperance” is unusually restrained, for Nino was better known for gayer subjects.
The Hoentschel Collection contains some original examples of the wood sculpture of the Gothic period in France from the 12th to the 15th century. The severe composition proclaims their use for architectural adornment. They serve as records of the temporal style, without the characteristics that would influence modern aspirations. It is a curious fact, and worthy to be noticed that when Gothic architecture reached its culminating point in the perfection of the so-called Pointed and Decorated styles, the sculptor, associated with it accessionally, should with respect to beauty of form and technical excellence, have been in a state of quasi barbarism and rudeness. Sculpture at the time was under the dominance of the Church, as may be seen in the majority of statues that bear the realistic impress of consecrated misery. This dominance can scarcely, however, be reconciled to the fanciful combinations so often met with in the ornaments and accessories of Gothic architecture the unmeaning, however decorative, crockets and finials ; the squeezing of figures of saints and others standing in horizontal and curved sunk mouldings ; the employment of the human head and face as brackets for supporting heavy weights ; to say nothing of the irreverent use often made of monks and other ecclesiastical characters, mixed up with nondescript monsters to act, with widely opened mouths, as gargoyles or draining pipes to throw off the water from the roofs of buildings. The use of. sculpture for such purposes naturally resulted in arresting development and pushing back the canons of classic art.
Two stone statues of the 15th century, one of St. Catherine, the other of a burgher, are early French. A marble statuette ” Sleeping Venus,” by Canova, is in the style of his Cupid cast; while the marble bust ” The Vestal ” by the much overrated Dane Thorwaldsen, is in the late 18th century Academic manner.