Summer Research at the Cantor Art Gallery

In the summer of 2021, I was invited to be Weiss Summer Research Fellow at the Cantor Art Gallery. The Weiss Program allows Holy Cross students to stay on campus for 8 weeks, working on research projects with College faculty. My project was researching collections at the Cantor Art Gallery with the Gallery’s Director, Meredith Fluke. On my first day at the Gallery, Dr. Fluke took me through gallery storage, where she showed me a group of Asian decorative objects, that had not been previously researched by the Gallery staff – many of which had been unearthed during a complete collections inventory that was completed during Covid (we later discovered their provenance; given to the College by alumnus Frank Gallagher III, who served under General MacArthur after World War II). I was overjoyed to peek into them. Their materials are opulent, their styles lavish, their colors sensational, and their messages nostalgic.

Among them, there was an exquisite porcelain sculpture of Avalokiteśvara (Guānyīn 觀音) in the form of Padmapāṇi (Fig. 1), on which I had an instant crush. To people in East Asia, Guanyin is ohne Zweifel the embodiment of purity 净 and compassion 悯, just as Mary is to Christians. If you peek into any sculpture of Guanyin, her body is always perfectly proportioned, her expression tender, and her manner kingly. Historically, Guanyin has been blessed with at least thirty-three iconographies in Chinese Buddhist scriptures and art, one of which was Padmapāṇi, namely the Lotus Bearer 持蓮觀音. As early as the cosmopolitan Tang dynasty (618-907), Chinese Guanyin statues had taken a female manifestation. By contrast, their Himalayan prototypes took a male manifestation while also featuring a softness of the anatomy, as evident in a turquoise-inlaid, bronze Padmapāṇi statue (Fig. 2) in the MET collection.

Porcelain Statue of Bodhisattva Guanyin Holding a Lotus Bloom c. 20th century. China.

The Cantor Guanyin stands right on the top of a huge, flat lotus leaf, holding a spray of an aromatic lotus bloom. To me, the message that the Guanyin conveys is not physiological but rhythmic and emotional, resembling Botticelli’s Venus with leggiadria. Although her loose garment opens at her partially exposed chest, it didn’t seem to me to be lascivious at all. And, how could we not fall in love with the color of the statue? Its infinite pure whiteness was probably modeled after the Blanc de Chine 德化白瓷, a type of ivory glazed porcelains that were crafted in present-day Fujian Province during the Ming dynasty (1368-1644).

The absence of a signature hindered us from deciphering who crafted the Cantor Guanyin and when it was crafted. Dr. Fluke explained that there are many times when we research historical objects that definitive knowledge about production is lost and irretrievable. When I studied a Japanese doll in the form of a man (Fig. 3), a new “question mark” popped up. To me, it was hard to tell its exact identity. The only clue was his extravagant crimson chōfuku 朝服, which parallels with the one worn by Fujiwara no Takamitsu 藤原高光 (939-994) in Kanō Yasunobo’s 狩野安信 (1614-1685) Sanjūrokkasen-gaku 三十六人歌仙伝 (Fig. 4). Since Fujiwara as a mid-Heian samurai armed with bows and arrows wears splendid crimson fabric in Kanō’s painting, the Cantor doll’s chōfuku, when coupled with the long wayumi 和弓 in his hand, indicates that he might be a samurai either in the Asuka period (592-710) or in the Heian period (794-1185).

Jinze Mi and Tim Johnson installing Ōmori Mitsumoto 大森光元.

I was not discouraged when I reach these dead ends in my research. I would rather wade into the murmuring brook—despite being fraught with vagaries—out of sheer curiosity and exhilaration. I used my research as the foundation for an exhibit I curated for the Spring of 2021. For the first time, the gifts of Frank Gallegher ’32 were on display. I selected 10 of the 33 objects that were a part of his original gift, including the Guanyin and the Kimona Doll. At a time that the virus kept me far from my family for a long time, the Cantor experience familiarized me with collection research methodologies and professional curatorial practices, which inspired me to reconsider how the early modern world was intermingled, both artistically and commercially.

Jinze Mi standing beside “Porcelain Statue of Bodhisattva Guanyin Holding a Lotus Bloom” in his exhibit “Asia in the Mirror.”

– Jinze Mi ’23

In Celebration of the Cantor and Visual Arts at Holy Cross


Father Brooks with B. Gerald Cantor at the opening of the Cantor Art Gallery in 1983.

The Cantor Art Gallery has played a vital part in Holy Cross’ liberal arts education since 1983 when Rev. John E. Brooks, S.J. first envisioned its role as strengthening and fostering, “…the openness and tolerance necessary if we are to understand who we are and how we relate to one another.” During his tenure as president of Holy Cross from 1970 to 1994, Brooks made many significant contributions, including transforming the all-male, white student body into one that included students of color and women. 

Installation view of The Art of Elizabeth Catlett from the Collection of Samella Lewis.

Although transformative as these changes were for Holy Cross, Brooks laid a foundation as important as any other for the future of the College when he committed himself to establishing a gallery on campus. He knew, instinctively, that the visual arts matter when educating individuals and preparing them to be engaged citizens.

Installation view of What It Means by Sara Vo, ’19 from the Senior Concentration Seminar Exhibition 2019: Ennead, 2019.
Detail view of What It Means.

The Jesuit tradition in education places an emphasis on helping students to understand themselves as human beings, what their place is in the world, and how they can understand and serve others. Having a space that is dedicated to the visual arts, makes room for experiencing a wide range of expressions of what it means to be human – on emotional, intellectual, spiritual, and cultural levels. By engaging in a dialogue with a work of art, there is an opportunity for us to see and appreciate points of view we’ve never encountered or considered before.

Visiting Fulbright Professor Naresh Bajracharya from Nepal created a stone powder Adhivāśana Mandala in the gallery during the Dharma and Punya exhibition.
Installation view of Dharma and Punya: Buddhist Ritual Art of Nepal, 2019, co-curated by Dr. Jinah Kim, Professor of History of Art & Architecture, Harvard University and Dr. Todd Lewis, Distinguished Professor of Religious Studies, College of the Holy Cross.

Experiencing a work of art is like unraveling a puzzle – what is the artist trying to express, by what means is it accomplished, is it familiar or foreign to me, is it showing me something I don’t understand, or don’t relate to, how does it make me feel? I can’t think of a better way of becoming a more open-minded person than by opening oneself up to the experiences of others – whether throughout history, those present in your immediate community, or across the globe today. 

Installation view of Create, 2012, an exhibition which presented the work of twenty artists with developmental disabilities who have been active at one of three pioneering studios in California.

From its very beginnings until now, the Cantor has exhibited works of art across a wide range of issues, experiences, genres, and cultures – from civil rights in the United States to apartheid in South Africa; the devastation of war as witnessed at Hiroshima and through the Holocaust; objects of religious devotion from Christian, Buddhist, and Islamic faith traditions, as well as Native American sacred sites; bold African sculptures, intricate textiles from Indonesia, lyrically fluid Islamic calligraphy; art created in response to major events such as Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, and art created by differently-abled artists that express their unique visions of the world; works by Vietnamese women artists, Latin American artists, and Cuban artists; yearly exhibitions of student works from visual arts majors, as well as visual art faculty exhibitions on a triennial basis.

Installation view of Hurricane Suite in Nine Movements by Dawn DeDeaux, from the exhibition Katrina Then & Now: Artists as Witness, Part II: The Rebirth of Art, 2015, curated by Daina Cheyenne Harvey, Assistant Professor of Sociology, College of the Holy Cross (the first installation was entitled Part I: Documenting, Describing & Dealing with Disaster).
Installation view of the faculty exhibition Summa, 2018.

When I reflect on why the Cantor is such a special part of a Holy Cross education, and vital resource for the campus, it comes down to a belief in the power of creative expression – in this case visual expression – as offering us a way to connect with others and become more than ourselves alone. Father Brooks’ words resonate with me as deeply important today, as much as they did when he spoke them back in 1983. Openness, tolerance, and understanding of our fellow humans – these values matter now more than ever. As the Cantor begins a new chapter with its move into the Prior Performing Arts Center, it is poised to further engage the Holy Cross community – and wider community – with essential questions of humanity through the visual arts.

Paula Rosenblum, Assistant Director for Communications and Operations

Installation view of the Cantor Art Gallery’s inaugural exhibit at the Prior Performing Arts Center, Afterimage: 2022 Visual Arts Faculty.


Icon for a Plague: Stefano Erardi’s Death of Saint Joseph

Stefano Erardi, The Death of Saint Joseph, oil on panel, date unknown. Gift of Martin O’Malley ‘ 64. The Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Gallery, 2015.10.33

As we crawl our way through the second year of the Covid-19 pandemic, I find myself returning to this moving painting in the collection of the Cantor Art Gallery. The scene represented is the Death of Saint Joseph, the fatherly saint’s identity is confirmed by the carpentry tools scattered on the ground by his bed. Attending at Joseph’s bedside are Mary, Jesus, and an angel in prayer; they are joined by a small host of angels in heaven. While one angel holds lilies, another awaits with a crown – both symbols of Joseph’s impending transition to saintly status. In this scene of extreme unction – the sacrament meant to prepare the soul for death – the gift of the Holy Spirit is sent by God the Father. In Catholic tradition, this gift is meant to renew faith in God and strengthen its recipient against the temptations of discouragement and despair that accompany the fear of dying, thus preventing the loss of hope in God’s salvation. For me, the image of people gathered at a loved one’s bedside at the moment of death has taken on new weight during the pandemic. For those of us who were denied access to our parents, relatives, and friends as they passed (in my case, my beloved father), the image reminds us of the universal desire to bear witness and provide comfort in this final transition. At Joseph’s bedside, Jesus (as priest) performs the sacrament of extreme unction, while Mary, as intercessor, serves as a perfect representation of somber, yet hopeful, Christian grief.

This small panel painting is most likely the work of Stefano Erardi – a Maltese painter of the late-17th, early-18th century. Born in the city of Valletta in 1630, Erardi painted in the Baroque style that was popular throughout Europe at the time. This style is marked by dramatic positioning of figures, heightened attention to the temporal aspect of a narrative, and deep, rich colors. One of the greatest painters of the Baroque period, Caravaggio (d. 1610), is known to have lived in Malta for a brief period of time toward the end of his life. Though Stefano Erardi is not well-known outside of Malta, he was favored by government and church authorities on the island, and his paintings can be found throughout churches and collections on Malta and nearby Gozo. Some of his most well-known paintings are large-scale altarpieces, such as the 1667 painting of the Adoration of the Magi, still in situ at Valletta’s Co-Cathedral of Saint John (it shares the title with the Co-Cathedral of Saint Paul in Mdina). It is worth noting that Malta suffered an intense outbreak of the plague from 1675 -76, in which Erardi would have seen approximately 11,300 Maltese citizens die. 

Stefano Erardi, Adoration of the Magi, oil on canvas, 1667. Located in Saint John’s Co-Cathedral, Valletta, Malta.

The Death of Saint Joseph was given to the Cantor Gallery by Martin O’Malley, a Worcester native and 1964 alumnus of Holy Cross. For many reasons — storage, care, and teaching being among them — the Gallery’s task is first to confirm its attribution: how do we know that this painting is by Erardi, especially considering that it has not been signed by the Maltese artist (keeping in mind that a signature is not always a guarantee for authentic authorship)? Often attribution lies in a complex network of clues.

The most important tool we use in determining authorship is our eyes. Does the painting look like others painted by Stefano Erardi? Since there are many affirmed Erardi paintings in Malta, we can look to comparisons to see that the Cantor’s Death of Joseph accords with known examples: one of the most famous of Erardi’s paintings, still installed in Saint John’s Co-Cathedral in Valletta, is the Adoration of the Magi, painted in 1667. Though the Adoration of the Magi is a much larger and more developed painting than the Death of Saint Joseph, we can see several similarities between the two: including the palette of rich blues, reds, and mustard-gold yellows. Also similar is the concentration of figures in the close middle ground, and especially the proportions and positioning of the youth/angel figure represented in the foreground of both paintings.

Stefano Eradi, The Annunciation, oil on canvas, 1677. Located in the Carmelite Priory in Mdina, Malta.

Erardi’s painting of the Annunciation, currently located in the Carmelite Priory in Mdina, Malta, dated to 1677, also demonstrates the saturated palette utilized by Erardi throughout his paintings. The Annunciation also connects to the Death of Saint Joseph through the translucent golden mustard color that the artist uses in the sky around the God the Father figure, the silvery-white outlines of the clouds, and the descending dove (representing the Holy Spirit) with light streaming from its beak — all characteristics of both paintings. 

Back of The Death of Saint Joseph

In addition to these visual similarities, the Joseph panel importantly carries with it the opinion of a Stefano Erardi expert, who confirms the attribution in a note pasted to the back of the panel:

Valetta Malta        Jan 1  1926

With regard to the painting of the Death of Saint Joseph, Mr. Bonello, the Curator of the Art Collection of the Maltese Museum has supplied to the owner of the picture, the American Consul at Malta (Philip Adams), the opinion that without any doubt the picture was the work of Stephano Erardi; and the typewritten statement appearing above was supplied to Mr. Adams by Mr. Bonello.

Philip Adams (American Consul Valetta Malta)

In this note, Mr. Bonello, who we can assume has examined most Erardi paintings, not only confirms Stefano Erardi as the artist, but it also creates a provenance for the painting.  He illuminates the way in which it traveled from Malta to the United States — in the hands of an American diplomat. For art collections and museums, it is important to demonstrate that the painting was legally purchased, in accordance with international laws about moving works of art out of their country of origin. For the Cantor, an Erardi attribution allows us to create a storage, care, display, and research plan that responds the painting’s 17th century date, and Maltese origin.

For modern viewers, the scene of Joseph’s deathbed is an important reminder of the humanity that defines the lives of the saints. Joseph’s role as a loving father has been recently highlighted through the Pope’s proclamation that 2021 be a special “Year of St. Joseph.” The Pope’s Patris corde (with a father’s heart) letter, written against the backdrop of the Covid-19 pandemic, relates Joseph to the “ordinary people” who have persevered and helped one another, offered hope, and thus played an important role in the history of salvation. The Cantor Collection’s painting, perhaps painted around the time of Malta’s plague outbreak, connects us with these larger ideas of health and care that are fundamental human values — here to be considered and emulated through the contemplation of a transcendent work of art.

Meredith Fluke, Director of the Cantor Art Gallery


Guest Blogger Alyssa Stone: 10 prints x 10 women

Welcome guest blogger Alyssa Stone ‘ 22! Alyssa has worked with the Cantor as a Gallery Assistant, and has been working as a Research Assistant during the 2020-21 academic year.

Hi, I’m Alyssa. I’m a junior psychology and self-designed peace and conflicts major. I’m a maker myself and have always been interested in artistic processes. This is why I work the Cantor Gallery, even though it may not seem to intersect with my academic endeavors. Typically, I get a front-row seat at the gallery shows, but unfortunately this year COVID-19 had other plans. Instead, I have been able to work as a remote gallery assistant, helping to research and curate the show 10 x 10 (Ten Women: Ten Prints) with gallery staff Paula Rosenblum and Meredith Fluke. This specific project means a lot to me because it was put together in 1995 to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the United States’ adoption of the 19th amendment, which allowed women the right to vote. In addition, social justice issues like these are an encompassing passion of mine.

The 10 x 10 portfolio installed in the Cantor Resource Gallery, Academic Year 2020-2021

This exhibit includes the work of ten women artists, who themselves display the beauty of racial and ethnic diversity within the United States and across the globe. Each woman represents a different life path, as well as some of the many challenges women face domestically and internationally. The prints foster discussion about many of the struggles women face both publicly and privately – in their individual lives or their communities. They bring attention to these collective experiences, portraying them in ways that show their strength through vulnerability.

Claudia Bernardi, Ser mujer es saber resistir, 1995. Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Art Gallery Permanent Collection, 1996.02C

Many of these works interested me due to their foundations in conflict and immigration, given my academic pursuits in PCON studies, and my hopes of becoming an immigration lawyer. Claudia Bernardi’s piece, Ser Mujer Es Saber Resistir, caught my eye as it directly correlated with my studies. I wrote a research paper about the atrocities committed during the Argentine Dirty War, so I was familiar with the subject matter, but Bernardi’s approach made what I knew all the more human. It reminded me that even though this portfolio is celebrating the achievement of women’s suffrage (now a little more than 100 years ago), America has also created painful conditions for women all over the world. Similarly, Homenaje a Dolores Huerta from Women’s Work is Never Done by Yolanda Lopez reflects on the silenced experience of Mexican and Mexican-American women, who have been exploited through agricultural work. The themes of these artworks address only immigrant women or women affected by US foreign affairs, but also basic issues and hardships that are applicable to the lives of many women and their experiences.

Yolanda M. López, Homenaje a Dolores Huerta from Women’s Work Is Never Done, 1995. Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Art Gallery Permanent Collection, 1996.02F

As I researched each of these prints and their makers, I felt even more connected to the artists and their messages than I did before I was offered this opportunity. Like myself and other women, these artists and incredible multi-dimensional. They are not just makers; each artist draws from her personal identity to portray a part of the female experience. These images illuminate the stories of women who might have been marginalized in beautiful and powerful ways, hopefully furthering the discussions surrounding these issues.

In my life, I try to participate in dialogue that will bring about change. Whether the change is within myself or the world varies, but it is always impactful. The art in the 10 x 10 portfolio is beautiful, but like all difficult dialogue, it is sometimes uncomfortable. I think that, while people have different levels of tolerance for discomfort, works made by passionate and inspiring artists make discomfort easier. The beauty of these prints is that they allow the audience to lean in, and to understand the artist through their own lens. I hope that this exhibition allows others to embrace these experiences as I have, and leaves them with a pang of discomfort and curiosity, as it did for me.

Ruth Morgan, Percenda, 1995. Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Art Gallery Permanent Collection 1996.02G


Alyssa Stone is a psychology and peace and conflict studies double major, with an interested in rhetoric and composition. She is passionate about social justice and change, and hopes to continue pursuing her interests in law or nonprofit work in the future. At Holy Cross, Alyssa serves as a mentor for first-year students and writing consultant in the Writer’s Workshop.

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 11 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