The Capitol Dome

Summer 2013

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Behold the Statue of Freedom Sculptor Thomas Crawford & Senator Charles Sumner by Katya Miller S ENATOR CHARLES SCHUMER (D-NY) opened his remarks at the second inauguration of President Barack Obama on February 12, 2013, by pointing to the Statue of Freedom at the top of the dome of the United States Capitol and asking us to "Behold the Statue of Freedom." He reminded us that there is still work to be done to establish the freedom for all symbolized by the statue when it was erected in 1863, the same year that President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation. What Senator Schumer did not mention was the name of Thomas Crawford (fig. 1), the sculptor of the statue, and the story of his remarkable friendship with Charles Sumner (fig. 2), a leading senatorial supporter of emancipation. The Statue of Freedom was the last commission Crawford completed in his tragically short life; he died of a brain tumor on October 10, 1857, at the age of 43. He was born in New York City and displayed a gift for drawing at an early age. Encouraged by his older sister, Jenny, he scoured the city for prints to study. He read extensively in the history of the architecture and art of ancient Greece and Rome. At 19, Crawford apprenticed with the New York studio of Frazee and Launitz, where he learned wood and marble carving, while studying at night at the New York National Academy of Design. His employers suggested that he study in Rome with master sculptors. So off he went in May 1835, at the age of 21, with a letter of introduction to the renowned Danish sculptor, Bertel Thorwaldsen, who shared his studio space with the young American and introduced him to the art of carving the Tuscan marble from Carrara, Italy, favored by Michelangelo.1 While living and studying in Rome, Crawford absorbed the classical forms of high European art and with contemporary sculptors Horatio Greenough and Hiram Powers participated in creating a genre 16 THE CAPITOL DOME portraying American themes through neoclassical Italian forms.2 An acquaintance, George Washington Greene, the American consul to Italy, introduced Crawford to Charles Sumner of Boston. Greene had become Crawford's good friend in 1838 when he took the sculptor, who was ill with "brain fever," into his home for a month.3 Throughout his illness, brought on by poverty and overwork, Crawford diligently modeled a bust of Greene that Sumner admired and thought an excellent likeness (fig. 3). The sculptor introduced Sumner, a lawyer and a student of the classics, languages, music, and art, to Roman art, culture, and to Crawford's fellow artists. The two young men became fast and life-long friends. They were only three years apart in age, tall and lanky with congenial temperaments. This friendship helped Crawford secure many of his first commissions. While Crawford worked "with narrow means and serious misgivings as to the future," Sumner, along with Greene, made it a point to encourage the sculptor's ambitions. They directed English and American travelers to visit Crawford's studio. "Crawford!" Sumner told him, "When I come again to Rome, you will be a great and successful sculptor, and be living in a palace."4 Grateful for the new friendship and Sumner's promotions on his behalf, Crawford sculpted a marble bust of the Bostonian (fig. 4). Sumner arranged for the Boston Athenaeum to purchase Crawford's Orpheus and Cerberus, a statue of the mythical Greek musician holding a lyre with a three-headed hellhound by his side (fig. 5). Greene had lent Crawford the money to buy the marble and complete the statue. Orpheus and Cerberus arrived in Boston in 1843 and was exhibited along with the bust of Sumner at the Athenaeum. Although the sculpture arrived with some of its parts broken off during the voyage, Sumner later wrote, "The 'Orpheus' is on its pedestal . . . and makes music with its beauty. It is thoroughly restored so SUMMER 2013

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