This is the central figure, “America,” in Thomas Crawford’s group of marble sculptures titled “The Progress of Civilization” on the US Capitol. Finished between 1853 and 1856, the sculptures were newly photographed during a 2016 restoration. Did Louisa Lander, Crawford’s pupil, carve this figure based on her (now lost) “To-Day”?
Davida Johnson Clark, the model whose classically beautiful features pervaded Augustus St. Gaudens’ visualizations of Diana, Victory, and Amor Caritas, is one of the most highly visible faces in neoclassical art. Yet the woman herself—St. Gaudens’ longtime mistress and mother of one of his sons—has almost disappeared from history.
A Swedish immigrant whose name was originally Albertina Hulgren, Davida was re-christened by St. Gaudens after Michelangelo’s David. Her great-granddaughter wrote a fictionalized biography of her in 2016.
Louisa Lander was born in Salem, Mass. in 1826 and died in Boston in 1923. She outlived her career as a neoclassical sculptor by many decades, and the list of her “lost” works is a long one. The bulk of her active career was spent in Rome, and a few works described in her Roman studio (“Elizabeth, Exile of Siberia,” “Pioneer Mother and Child”) may not have made it to the carver’s workshop, or out of Italy.
But several pieces exhibited in and around Boston—presumably in some final form, whether marble or bronze—remain intriguingly missing. An “Evangeline,” lying near the bank of a stream, exhausted and asleep, a patriotic bust titled “Today,” a “Galatea” and others remain at large. Whether these were later attributed to other artists, destroyed, or are sleeping in an attic or basement, it’s worth keeping an eye out for this elusive artist’s lost oeuvre.
Pictured is Lander’s stunning portrait of Nathaniel Hawthorne, in the first floor reference room of the Concord Free Public Library. Signed “L.L. Romae. 1858.” and carved in marble from Lander’s clay original in Italy, the “L.L.” signature may also appear—inconspicuously—on other work.
An engraved portrait of Lander herself appears in an 1861 issue of Cosmopolitan Art Journal_Vol.5 No,1
This life-size marble Aphrodite, from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, represents the Greek goddess of love and desire, counterpart of the Roman Venus. Viewed through the Roman lens, she is essentially assimilative and benign, and embraces several otherwise quite disparate functions. She can give military victory, sexual success, good fortune and prosperity. In one context, she is a goddess of prostitutes; in another, she turns the hearts of men and women from sexual vice to virtue.
Originally, Aphrodite would have held her right arm horizontally over her breasts and her left over her pubic region, a gesture that seems to have been a stock pose for sculptures of this goddess.
This piece is relatively recent, from the 2nd century A.D., though Aphrodite’s lineage goes back thousands of years. The combination of fertility and warfare is seen in the ancient Inanna. #Goddess ID
Harriet Hosmer is widely recognized today as one of the first and most skilled female neoclassical sculptors in America. She was particularly interested in the historic plight of women, which is seen in her extraordinary bust of Medusa, created in 1854. In Greek mythology, Medusa was a beautiful girl cursed by Athena, who mutated her into a vile, homely Gorgon. Medusa’s hair turned to snakes and she gained the power to petrify men. Hosmer’s Medusa is compassionately rendered in a fixed state of transformation, with snakes intertwining her lovely hair. In addition, Medusa bears two feathered wings, reminiscent of the winged horse Pegasus that was born from her neck after she was beheaded.
Photo and text courtesy of artsmia.org
The marble Hygieia at the Worcester art museum is missing her head and arms, yet still appears graceful and somehow beckoning. From the 2nd century CE, excavated in Antioch, the goddess of health (Greek: ὑγίεια – hugieia) still retains traces of gilding on her long, wavy hair.
Hygieia was one of the Aeclepiadae; the sons and daughters of the god of medicine, Asclepius, and the goddess of healing, Epione. Her name is the source of the word “hygiene”. Many neoclassical American sculptors took on this theme, notably Edmonia Lewis.