A Familiar Goddess

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As a recent addition to the Amon Carter’s staff as an assistant curator, and as a newcomer to Fort Worth, it’s comforting to have art around that reminds me of my east coast origins and the places I’ve been. Chances are, if you have the opportunity to care for and interpret a stellar collection of American art, you have had the privilege of engaging with one of the Diana sculptures created by the renowned nineteenth-century artist Augustus Saint-Gaudens. As I ascend the Amon Carter’s Atrium stairs, I am delighted to be greeted by our bronze Diana of the Tower.

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Augustus Saint-Gaudens (1848-1907), Diana of the Tower, bronze, 1899

A close friend of celebrated New York architect Stanford White, Saint-Gaudens was asked around 1887 to create a sculpture to adorn the top of the architect’s Madison Square Garden. Saint-Gaudens chose to make a monumental weathervane depicting the Roman goddess of the hunt, Diana. Traditional classical sculptures of Diana were robust, but Saint-Gaudens, in the only female nude sculpture of his oeuvre, sculpted a more lithe version of the goddess, delicately balanced on one foot as if interrupted mid-hunt. When the original eighteen-foot-tall Diana, adorned with flying drapery, was installed atop the building’s tower, White and Saint-Gaudens were dismayed to discover she was out of proportion with the building and too unwieldy to move well. Down she came to be replaced with the thirteen-foot Diana now in the collection of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, my former curatorial home. She was the talk of the town in her heyday.

Nineteenth-century Americans judged the sculpted goddess a major hit, and she quickly became the most famous nude in the country. Saint-Gaudens then went about creating intricate bronze reductions of the larger goddess. Each one of the smaller versions was modeled by hand and varied in the configuration of bow, arrow, string, hair, patination, and base. So, even though I have seen a Diana or two in my day, there’s always something special to see with each encounter.

Our 1899 small-scale Diana of the Tower is not the lone representative of the sculpture in our collection, or even in Fort Worth. Over time, the Amon Carter has acquired three different versions of Saint-Gaudens’s Diana – the bronze, an early concrete sculpture, and the large gilded version that now resides at Fort Worth’s Bass Hall.

Though a late-nineteenth-century artwork holds intrinsic appeal for me as an art historian, Diana is of particular interest to me as a former competitive archer. While Saint-Gaudens’s technique is beyond reproach, archers will tell you that the goddess could benefit from a few pointers. Suffice it to say, none of my competitors ever prospered by pulling the bowstring back behind the ear, and I never saw an Olympian able to shoot a bow standing on tippy toes!

Maggie Adler, Assistant Curator