Venus Victrix

Artist

Horatio Greenough (American 1805–1852)

Date

1837–1840

Medium

Marble

Dimensions

57 3/16 x 16 1/8 x 18 3/4 in. (145.3 x 41 x 47.6 cm)

Description

As the embodiment of physical perfection, the goddess Venus (Aphrodite to the Greeks) was among the most popular subjects for neoclassical sculptors. The Boston sculptor Horatio Greenough’s version depicts Venus at the moment of her triumph in a contest—a sort of early beauty pageant. The sculpture was commissioned by John Lowell Jr., a member of a prominent Boston family, making it the first sculpture of a nude female figure ever commissioned by an American patron from an American sculptor. Venus reaches up to pull her hair back, ostensibly so she can get a better look at the golden apple she has just won, but more pointedly so that we can better see and enjoy her ideal physical form.

Photograph by Jerry L. Thompson for the Boston Athenæum.

Credit Line

Gift of the estate of John Lowell, Jr., 1842

Object Number

UH84

John Thornton Kirkland

Artist

Horatio Greenough (American 1805–1852)

Date

1831

Medium

Marble

Dimensions

28 3/16 x 25 3/16 x 14 3/8 in. (71.6 x 64 x 36.5 cm)

Description
Photograph by Jerry L. Thompson for the Boston Athenæum.
Credit Line

Gift of several subscribers, 1832

Object Number

UH77

Elizabeth Perkins Cabot

Artist

Horatio Greenough (American 1805–1852)

Date

1832–1833

Medium

Marble

Dimensions

17 1/2 x 12 5/16 x 8 9/16 in. (44.4 x 31.3 x 21.8 cm)

Description

In 1832 the Boston merchant Samuel Cabot and his wife Eliza Perkins took the Grand Tour of Europe; their purpose was to see the great treasures of the Continent, but they were also mourning the recent death of their daughter Susan Copley Cabot. That loss almost certainly lent some urgency to a natural desire to have images of their remaining children. To that end, they commissioned Horatio Greenough, the best-known expatriate American sculptor in Italy at the time, to model the children’s portraits, including this one of their ten-year-old daughter Eliza. The bust shows Greenough’s grasp of the neoclassical ideal: it is both an earnest attempt at recognizable likeness and a study in cool restraint.

Photograph by Jerry L. Thompson for the Boston Athenæum.

Credit Line

Athenæum purchase, 1983

Object Number

UH192

The Judgment of Paris

Artist

Horatio Greenough (American 1805–1852)

Date

1837–1840

Medium

Marble

Dimensions

24 5/8 x 21 3/8 x 17 1/16 in. (62.5 x 54.3 x 43.3 cm) (set into pedestal for Venus Victrix)

Description

Horatio Greenough created this relief on a commission from Bostonian John Lowell Jr. while the latter was traveling in Europe. It illustrates more fully the classical story of Venus winning a golden apple in a contest with three other goddesses. Her promise to give Paris, the judge in the contest, a gift of the most beautiful woman in the world (who turns out to be Helen of Troy) in exchange for victory in the contest, kicked off the Trojan War. Greenough’s incorporation of the relief into the pedestal of his Venus Victrix, also in this exhibition, helps the viewer to remember the story and ultimately draw from it whatever moral seems fitting (“Be careful what you wish for,” “Beauty is only skin deep,” etc.). Such didactic messaging was a key component to neoclassical sculpture.

Photograph by Jerry L. Thompson for the Boston Athenæum.

Credit Line

Gift of the estate of John Lowell Jr., 1842

Object Number

UH18

John Quincy Adams

Artist

Horatio Greenough (American 1805–1852)

Date

1828–1829

Medium

Marble

Dimensions

Marble, 23 x 14 x 8 1/2 in. (58.4 x 35.7 x 21.7 cm)

Description

The Boston-born sculptor Horatio Greenough here pays homage to the past by carving President John Quincy Adams’s otherwise realistic head in such a way that it implies nudity and terminates in the classical herm manner with its squared off , unadorned sides. The sculptor then emphasizes his classical intentions by inscribing the marble with his own name—in Greek. Using these devices allowed the neoclassical sculptor to relate his contemporary subject—in this case, the President of the United States—with the high ideals, erudition, and democratic values of the ancient world.

Photograph by Jerry L. Thompson for the Boston Athenæum.

Inscription

Inscribed at right: ΓΡΗΝΩ / ΕΙΙ [Greenough / made]

Credit Line

Athenæum purchase, 1829

Object Number

UH169

Emily Marshall Otis

Artist

Horatio Greenough (American 1805–1852)

Date

1839

Medium

Marble

Dimensions

25 9/16 x 19 1/8 x 10 1/2 in. (64.9 x 48.5 x 26.6 cm)

Description
Photograph by Jerry L. Thompson for the Boston Athenæum.
Credit Line

Gift of Samuel Eliot Morrison, 1956

Object Number

UH127