Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Zenobia in Chains

Zenobia in Chains by Harriet Hosmer, 1859. St. Louis Art Museum

When strumming through the pages of Framing America:A Social History of American Art by Frances K. Pohl I stumbled upon the image of a beautiful marble sculpture; this sculpture is Zenobia in Chains by Harriet Hosmer. Though in the book the sculpture is accredited to being displayed in the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art in Hartford, Connecticut, I recognized this sculpture from the American Art Collection in the Saint Louis Art Museum. I could not determine whether this was the same exact sculpture or a copy because to my knowledge Hosmer sold the original and four copies to patrons. These copies only varied in the different articulations of the belt buckle.
The sculpture of this queen of Palmyra in Syria greatly exemplifies the lineage of art through classical Greek and Roman art to mid-19th century American art; Zenobia in Chains is just that. It is the portrayal of the queen after her defeat and capture by the Romans. She is presented in a very noble manner, quite upright with no remorse in her defeat. Her robes are neatly gathered in her arm along with her chain, grasping them firmly as she ponders her future. She is a defeated leader, but not in her posture. The great story of this captive ends with her captor releasing her because he was so impressed by Zenobia's strength in adversity.
Zoomed image of sculpture. St. Louis Art Museum

The idea of this strength Zenobia has reflects the strength of Hosmer. Hosmer was a female artist in a time when for women it was difficult to become a recognizable artist in any medium in the 19th century, let alone a woman working in the medium she did, which resulted in even stronger prejudices against women taking it up. Hosmer achieved her talent when she studied in St. Louis at what is now Washington University. Hosmer put forth all her talents in this piece with the delicate floral work on the crown to the sweeping chain that suspends from the sculpture that would seemingly rattle in a breeze.

This sculpture is profound to me due to the fact the craftsmanship is unimaginable and also because the artist was woman. I really relate to this sculpture and all the ideas behind it. Hosmer studied at the school I desire to go to, she was an excellent craftsman in a medium I am utterly intrigued by and would like to study, and she focuses on the political and personal struggles of women against men and male-defined industries.
Shot of head of Zenobia in Chains. St. Louis Art Museum
Information from:

- Framing America: A Social History of American Art by Frances K. Pohl

- www.artfact.com/auction-lot/harriet-goodhue-hosmer-american,-1830-1908-,-seno-1-c-kdn9r3uvz4

Images from:

www.flickr.com from Aniruddha & Gauri's photostream

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