Musée d'Orsay: Augustus Saint-Gaudens Amor Caritas

Augustus Saint-Gaudens
Amor Caritas

Amor Caritas
Augustus Saint-Gaudens (1848-1907)
Amor Caritas
Bronze high relief
H. 264; W. 127; D. 30 cm
© RMN-Grand Palais (Musée d'Orsay) / DR

Amor Caritas

This large funerary figure of a winged angel is the culmination of a recurring theme in the oeuvre of Saint-Gaudens, one of the most famous American sculptors of the 19th century, and the fruit of tireless research. The relief in the Musée d'Orsay is derived from an angel modelled about 1880 for the tomb of the Morgan family, a commission which was never fulfilled, and the caryatids of the mantelpiece of the New York mansion of Cornelius Vanderbilt II (1881-1883).

The face of the angel has the regular features of Davida Johnson Clark, Saint-Gaudens' model and mistress since the early 1880s. The garland of passion flowers (an American species Passiflora coerulea) around the angel's waist and in her hair has Christ-like rather than strictly funereal connotations. It was commonly accepted that the structure of this flower symbolised the various instruments of Christ's passion.

The relief, cast in France, was bought for the Musée du Luxembourg, a supreme honour reserved for living artists. The poetic symbolism of this grave, delicate feminine figure and the allusion to Italian Renaissance sculpture make this relief one of the major works of American sculpture.

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