A Monuments Man at Holy Cross, part 2

This week we hear more from Ellen Perry, Professor of Classics at Holy Cross about sculptor Frederick Shrady:

Frederick Charles Shrady, the sculptor who created the bronze sculpture of Saint Martin of Tours in the foyer of Dinand Library, was born in New York in 1907. He was the son of another sculptor, Henry Merwin Shrady, whose most famous (and ambitious) work was the bronze group on the National Mall in Washington D.C. known as the Grant Memorial (Henry even incorporated a portrait of Frederick into that monument as a drummer boy).

The Ulysses S. Grant Memorial in Washington D.C. Sculpted by Henry Shrady from 1902 – 1924.
The Grant Monument (pictured at the center of the photo) amidst preparations for the inauguration of President Joseph Biden, January 19, 2020 (photo by AP).

The Grant Memorial was a labor of 20 years that was only finally dedicated 2 weeks after Henry Shrady’s death. Frederick was just a teenager at the time, but he grew up to study art in New York and Orleans, France; then art history at Oxford before he moved to Paris to live full-time. He lived there for 12 years and had established a solid reputation for himself as a painter. He also worked with the French underground, for which he was eventually awarded the Legion of Honor.

In June 1943, Frederick Shrady enlisted in the U.S. Army. He would join the Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives (MFAA) division of the army, better known to contemporary moviegoers as the Monuments Men. In June 1945 he was part of the team of Monuments Men who rescued some thousands of paintings, sculptures and other works of art from the salt mines at Altaussee, Austria, where the Nazis were storing/hiding them apparently with the intention of building a museum in Linz. Regardless of their intentions, however, in the last days of the war, the salt mines and therefore the works of art were placed at risk first by Nazi loyalists and then by the prospect of advancing Soviet troops. The protection of these works from the Nazis was complicated business for which many locals get credit. But the rapid evacuation of the art before the Soviets arrived was largely the work of the Monuments Men.

Lt. Frederick Shrady (R) with Vermeer’s The Astronomer, taken at Altaussee, Austria in 1945. From the Smithsonian Archives.

While he was in Austria, Frederick Shrady met his future wife, Maria Louise Likar-Waltersdorff, who was serving as an interpreter for the MFAA. They married in 1946. Shrady converted to Catholicism and his artistic output thereafter was largely, though not exclusively, religious; Shrady also cast a bronze sculpture titled Fidelity, Bravery, Integrity—the FBI motto—which stands in the courtyard of the FBI Building but, for security reasons, is no longer accessible to the general public. Shrady’s first bronze (1949) was a portrait of the Jesuit philosopher and public intellectual Martin D’Arcy. Incredibly, that very first sculpture of Shrady’s was purchased by the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Many years later, Shrady would also become the first American artist to receive a commission from the Pope (John Paul II).

Frederick Shrady’s Fidelity, Bravery, Integrity (1976) installed in the interior courtyard of the J. Edgar Hoover FBI Building (photo taken from the GSA website).

Novelist and historian Paul Horgan described Shrady’s overall style in a way that finds perfect application to the sculpture of Martin of Tours in Dinand Library:

….as he so often works in heroic scale, his powerful sense of the dramatic gesture to express an act or idea is always given to us through interplays or extreme tension between the flowing elements of his design. The parts seem to strive against each other in sweeping lines of almost choreographed gestures—and then to come together in the whole to effect a great act of release.

 In June of 1969, the College of the Holy Cross conferred an honorary degree on Frederick Shrady. Six months later, just before Christmas, Father Swords was corresponding with Shrady about whether he might be willing to create a sculpture for Dinand Library. He wrote, “I know that the size of the bequest [$5,000] will limit the project, and I also realize that your time is very much in demand. However, I feel that an alumnus of Holy Cross in the person of your good self could bring to the work a feeling which an outsider would not have.” Swords evidently turned Shrady into a Holy Cross “graduate” shortly before calling on him as a loyal alumnus to do his part for the College.

A Monuments Man at Holy Cross, part 1

This week’s blog comes from Ellen Perry, Professor of Classics at Holy Cross:

If you’ve ever headed up the long flight of steps to the front door of Dinand Library and into the foyer, you know the dramatic bronze sculpture of a man on horseback slicing his sword through a cloak in a single, swooping curve. The man is semi-abstract; the horse on which he sits decidedly less so. The man’s legs and torso describe a slender reverse S-curve, while his arms reach behind him in a broad, framing C-curve: his left hand holds one end of the cloak aloft; with his right, he pulls the sword down through the extended sweep of the cloak.

Frederick Shrady’s Martin of Tours in Dinand Library

This is Frederick Shrady’s Martin of Tours, the 4th-century saint who, in spite of his epithet, was born in Pannonia (modern Hungary) and grew up in Ticinum (modern Italy). Martin followed his father into the Roman army and served there for more than two decades before he retired and helped his friend Hilary build a monastery near Poitiers. He later became Bishop of Tours.

Sulpicius Severus, the author of Martin’s Vita (life story), was a somewhat younger contemporary of Martin’s who knew him personally and was devoted to his memory. Here’s how the Vita describes the event commemorated by the Dinand sculpture:

…. when he possessed nothing more than his weapons and a single military uniform, in the middle of a winter that had raged more cruelly than usual, with the result that the power of the cold had extinguished many lives, he met a naked beggar at the gate of the city of Amiens. This man begged those who were passing by to pity him, but everyone was passing by his misery in silence. Martin, full of God, understood that the beggar had been reserved for him, as the others were not extending mercy. What could he do? He had nothing more than the military cape that he was wearing, for everything else had been used up in similar works. And so, taking the sword that he wore, he divided his cloak in half and gave part of it to the beggar. He put the other half back on. (trans. Richard J. Goodrich)

The Vita goes on to say that, the following night, Martin dreamed that he saw Christ wearing the part of the cloak that had been given to the beggar. In his dream, Christ spoke to the angels, saying, “Martin, while still a catechumen, clothed me with this garment.” Sulpicius Severus explicitly connects this episode with Matthew 25:40: “Whatever you have done for one of the least of these, you have done for me.”

Martin’s Vita doesn’t mention a horse at all. In fact, Shrady’s horse stands in some contradiction to the extreme poverty detailed by the Vita. The horse makes up for that handsomely, though, by raising Martin above ground level and introducing a bold dynamism to his division of the cloak.

Shrady’s Martin of Tours was commissioned by the College of the Holy Cross. The funds came from a 1967 bequest by Mary Cordon, whose brother, Callahan Cordon, graduated from Holy Cross in 1911 and later became a priest. The same year as Holy Cross received that bequest, 1967, novelist and historian Paul Horgan wrote of Shrady’s style:

His own best ideas seem to occur to him . . . in heroic scale and dramatic forms. Like his father, he is a master craftsman who can make his fixed materials serve the release of emotional gestures larger than life . . . 

Keep an eye out for next week’s blog post about Frederick Shrady to learn more about his connection to the Monuments Men, the soldiers who protected the cultural heritage of Europe during World War II!

Musings on Benjamin-Constant’s Entombment of Christ

Today’s guest blogger is Professor Emerita Virginia Raguin, who writes on Jean-Joseph Benjamin-Constant’s Entombment of Christ, currently in the Cantor Gallery collection.

J.-J. Benjamin-Constant, The Entombment of Christ, ca. 1882. Oil on canvas, Gift of the Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Foundation, 1980.05.

Jean-Joseph Benjamin-Constant (1845-1902), born Jean-Joseph Constant, was a French painter and etcher best known for his orientalizing subjects and portraits. Although a native of Paris, he studied at the École des Beaux-Arts in Toulouse in the south of France. He quickly excelled at realistic anatomy, acquired from studying ancient statues, and dramatic composition from the replication of prestigious history paintings. He then transferred to the École des Beaux-Arts of Paris, studying under Alexandre Cabanel and was inspired by ancient history and the art of Delacroix and Rubens. This was a time of a highly prescribed series of competitions and awards. For an artist to achieve success, they needed recognition from the judges of the Salon, an official exhibition of the Académie des Beaux-Arts. Between 1748 and 1890 it was the most important professional and social event for art collectors of the world. Benjamin-Constant participated at the Salon of 1869 with romantic subjects with immediate success. Hamlet and the King (1867; Paris, Musée d’Orsay) showing Hamlet hesitating to kill Claudius while he is at prayer, was bought by the state (Dominique Lobstein in N. Bondil, ed., Benjamin-Constant: Marvels and Mirages of Orientalism [exh. cat., Montreal Museum of Fine Arts], Paris, 2014, pp. 36-38, no. 23). Afterwards, the artist was represented in the Salon almost yearly gaining most praise for works that exploited the dramatic function of light over equally dramatic subject matter.

Given the troubled atmosphere in Paris during the Franco-Prussian war, Benjamin-Constant joined with fellow artist Georges Clairin and Henri Renault to make an extended voyage through Spain and Morocco. Beginning in 1871, he resided for eighteen months in Morocco, a country where the French had gained considerable influence. The artist soon developed an oeuvre prioritizing Orientalism, a point of view emphasizing the exotic – and often the erotic – of the eastern culture.  The paintings that he exhibited on his return to Paris met with great success; in 1878, Interior of a Harem in Morocco was acquired by the State for the Palais des Beaux-Arts in Lille; another Harem scene including half nude women, Les Chérifas (Musée de Beaux Arts, Carcassonne) received a medal at the 1884 Salon. With Jean-Léon Gérôme, Benjamin-Constant shared the place of Honorary President at the Society of French Orientalist Painters, whose inaugural exhibition was held in 1893. His undated Odalisque exemplifies his Orientalist bent, contrasting values of light and dark, and sophisticated handling of paint.

Benjamin-Constant, Odalisque, undated. Oil on canvas, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2017.202.4.

In the 1880s, Benjamin-Constant began painting monumental decoration including the wall of the Hall of the Capitol of Toulouse, the ceilings of the City Hall of Paris, the National Theater of the Opera Comique in Paris. In 1889, he painted murals for the home of Frederick Lothrop Ames, 306 Dartmouth Street, Boston (Ames-Webster House). Ames had commissioned John Sturgis to transform the home, which he did, creating a lavish wood panel reception hall. John La Farge designed the skylight installed in 1882 that exploited his newly developed “opalescent” glass technique. Benjamin-Constant’s mural cycle focused on the theme of the sixth-century emperor Justinian.

Cupola from the Ames-Webster House, 1880s. Murals painted by Benjamin-Constant (1889), glass designed by John La Farge. Boston, Massachusetts. Photo: Christopher Carlsmith.

Here, the artist merged Venetian traditions of Renaissance narrative in the base with more hieratic depictions echoing Byzantine monumentality in the upper level. (Christopher Carlsmith, “The Byzantine and Venetian Cycles in the Boston Mansion of Frederick L. Ames,” in Benjamin-Constant: Marvels and Mirages of Orientalism, pp. 322-28).

The painting of the Entombment of Christ came to the College as a gift from the Cantor Foundation in 1980 and was for some time displayed in the office of President John Brooks. It can be identified as the oil listed as Entombment of Christ, about 1882, 60 x 81 cm (23 ½ x 31 ¾ in.) in the New York, Sotheby’s sale of June 12, 1980, lot. 58.  Although less well-known, Christian subject matter was very much a part of the production of the artist, as well as his interest in grisaille, or monochrome (Benjamin-Constant: Marvels and Mirages of Orientalism, pp. 32-42). The depiction is remarkably sensitive. The artist harnesses his sensitivity to light and shadow to create an arresting image of the body of the Savior extended on the “stone of unction” that was venerated at the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem. He profiles a female mourner, head shrouded by a veil to the left – adjacent to the head of Christ. Behind, all is “nothingness.” Far to the right two men, Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, tend to the body: “And after these things, Joseph of Arimathea . . .  besought Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus. And Pilate gave leave. He came therefore, and took the body of Jesus. And Nicodemus also came, (he who at the first came to Jesus by night,) bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes . . . . They took therefore the body of Jesus, and bound it in linen cloths, with the spices, as the manner of the Jews is to bury.  (John 19:38-40). The monochromatic image resonates with the long tradition of Lenten imagery focusing on the redemptive suffering of Christ. One of the most renowned is the Parament of Narbonne that was part of a set of textile paintings commissioned by King Charles V. During Lent, restrictions diminished the opulence of viewing; statues were veiled and altarpieces closed, leaving only their outer wings, invariably in monochrome, on display. Commissioned between 1364 and 1378, the altar frontal depicts the king and queen kneeling on either side of the Crucifixion.

The Parement of Narbonne, 14th century. Gray wash on silk, Musée du Louvre MI1121.

Benjamin-Constant’s popularity was international, and from 1888 he traveled frequently to Canada and the United States and also taught students from these countries at the Académie Julian. Significantly, the academy accepted female students and a number of distinguished women developed under his tenure. Recent attention has been paid to this legacy in Gabriel Weisberg and Jane R. Becker, eds., Overcoming All Obstacles; The Women of the Académie Julien [exh. cat.  Dahesh Museum New York] New Brunswick, N.J. 1999.  Cecilia Beaux (1855-1942) was one of the most successful, with a long, respected career, leaving works in prestigious institutions such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the National Gallery, and the Smithsonian American Art Museum. See her biography: Cecilia Beaux, Background with Figures, Boston 1930. Her 1898 painting Dorothea and Francesca shows the lasting value of the understanding of human form and mastery of brushstroke that so characterized the Academic work of Benjamin-Constant.

Cecilia Beaux, Dorothea and Francesca, 1898. Oil on canvas, The Art Institute of Chicago, 1921.109.

By Virginia Chieffo Raguin                                                                                             Distinguished Professor of Humanities Emerita, College of the Holy Cross

Get to know Eustache

Sculpture of Eustache de Saint-Pierre on the Holy Cross campus

Located in Memorial Plaza, Eustache de Saint-Pierre was created by French sculptor Auguste Rodin, often regarded as the father of modern sculpture, and author of well-known works like The Thinker and The Kiss. Highly successful during his own lifetime, Rodin was known for his revolutionary approach to sculpture; his compositions often reference the physical properties of the materials from which they were made, including bronze, plaster, and marble. Eustache was part of a sculptural group known as the Burghers of Calais, commissioned in 1884 by the city of Calais, France to commemorate events that occurred during the Hundred Years’ War (1337 to 1453). The sculpture is one of 53 of Rodin’s sculptures owned by the College, given by Iris and B. Gerald Cantor, who, at the same time, created an endowment fund to support the Cantor Gallery.

Sculptor Auguste Rodin

To create the composition for the sculpture, Rodin relied on the medieval chronicler Jean de Froissart, who tells of the besiegement of Calais in 1346 by the English, who demanded hostages in exchange for the French city’s freedom. Led by Eustache de Saint-Pierre, six calaisiens submitted themselves for execution, and were brought before the English king Edward III (1312 – 1377). Although Edward ordered their beheading, the burghers were saved through the intervention of the Queen, Philippa of Hainault. Regardless, their sacrifice was hailed as an exemplum of civic virtue in the late-nineteenth century by the municipal council of Calais. In 1885, they commissioned Rodin to memorialize it in a monument. The complex arrangement of figures was unveiled in Calais in 1895.

The Burghers installed in Calais, France

Like many of the Rodin sculptures in the Cantor’s collection, the Holy Cross Eustache was cast in bronze by the Coubertin foundry, created posthumously from the plaster model in the Musée Rodin in Paris, through a process created by Rodin himself. Though the Holy Cross Eustache was cast in the 1970s, the sculpture comes with a certificate of authenticity from the Musée Rodin – the institution created by the sculptor that controls and limits the number of casts of each sculpture to 12, in order to preserve the quality, and thus the value of the works. 

Eustache in his first home in O’Kane

Although separated from his 5 comrades, The Cantor’s Eustache strikes a monumental figure. With his bowed head and anachronistic drapery, Eustache is meant to represent the broader ideals of sacrifice and patriotic heroism. When it first arrived at the College in 1985, the sculpture was installed in the foyer outside of the Cantor Gallery – the object’s weight required the floor to be reinforced in that spot! In 2003, after 2 decades in O’Kane, the sculpture was moved to the Memorial courtyard where it stands today. Its presentation as a fountain dedicated to Frank Vellaccio was conceived and funded by Carol and Park B. Smith, who wanted to recognize Vellaccio’s service to the College; as Professor of Chemistry from 1974, Dean of the College, and acting President from 1998 – 2000. Weighing more than 600 pounds, moving the sculpture was no small endeavor. Now exposed to the outdoor elements of rain and snow, the sculpture requires periodic care and surface treatments to protect it from environmental effects.

Welcome to Treasures of the Mount!

This blog is dedicated to the art and spaces of the Holy Cross campus that are hidden or exemplary, beloved or overlooked, and decidedly unique. Each post will explore a different work of art, its various connections and histories, and the singular journey that brought it to Holy Cross. Treasures of the Mount will present a variety of voices — students, faculty, staff, and community members — whose diverse interests and research will shed light across the varied campus collections. We hope that you will not only gain insight into familiar works, but will also discover new treasures from the Mount St. James.

–Meredith Fluke, Director, Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Gallery