Field Day Part 2: The Carnegie Museums and the Classical World in Imitation

As promised, this week we’re going to continue our tour through the Carnegie Museum of Art (CMOA) and Natural History (CMNH), but I also promise to finally let all of you out of the single room I confined you to last week.

[Pictured: People fleeing my attempts to keep them in the Hall of Architecture]

But to sort of help us bridge what we talked about last week and help us branch out into the museums at large, it seems like a good time to introduce the uninitiated to Dippy.

[Hi, everybody!]

Dippy is formally Diplodocus carnegii, a diplodocus skeleton discovered in the western United States (Wyoming) by a paleontology team funded by Andrew Carnegie on behalf of the CMNH on July 4, 1899. The picture above is a life-sized fiberglass statue of Dippy modeled on the skeleton that stands outside the museums and is generally whom Pittsburghers think of as “Dippy.” This Dippy is famous for his fabulous scarves and the occasional hat or set of earmuffs.

Skeleton Dippy is possibly the most famous dinosaur in the world, indeed the specimen that popularized the word dinosaur to the worldwide public. And this is because Andrew Carnegie donated almost a dozen plaster casts of the original skeleton to some of the world’s largest museums, including most famously at the behest of Edward VII, to the British Museum. Which led to a reverse-Elgin Marbles moment for me and my husband when we turned a corner at the British Museum of Natural History in 2016 and found a familiar face. 

[Plaster London Dippy, last displayed in 2017. My husband had scoffed and, voicing the opinion of the anti-plaster public, declared “we could’ve stayed home and seen this!”]

[OG Dippy, in the foreground, on display at the CMNH continuously since 1907.]

Because of the celebrity of the world’s most famous sauropod, who forced the museum to construct a huge expansion to fit him, Dippy is the mascot of the Natural History Museum, and he is found throughout the museums to point visitors in the right direction, or to generally be one’s ambassador through the collection. Which incidentally, has always been his purpose in Andrew Carnegie’s mind, as the industrialist wanted “…to demonstrate through mutual interest in scientific discoveries that nations have more in common than what separates them. He used his gifts [of Dippy casts] in an attempt to open inter-state dialogue on preserving world peace – a form of Dinosaur diplomacy.”

But Dippy shows the breadth of plaster casting in the museum world and perhaps makes one more eloquent argument for me to remove the stigma from casting moving forward into the future. If you’ve seen a diplodocus in London, Paris, Vienna, Berlin, Munich, St. Petersburg, Bologna, Madrid, Buenos Aires, or Mexico City, you’ve seen Fake Dippy, but I don’t think that’s a bad thing. Joking aside, London Dippy looked just as great as Pittsburgh Dippy, and I’d much rather more of our international relations involve giant dinosaur gift exchanges than most things.

To get to Skeleton Dippy in the CMNH from the Hall of Architecture, one has to cross the open atrium of the Hall of Sculpture, which is where the last couple of plaster cast displays reside. I’m stopping here only to point out one of the sculptures, the Artemis of Gabii, because she is lovely and does a wonderful job of showing off some of the things we discussed in my entry about clothing.

[Plaster Artemis of Gabii]

[Original Artemis of Gabii from the Louvre]

Part of the reason you can tell this is Artemis without even looking at her placard is because her chiton is girded above her knees, but she is otherwise fairly demurely dressed. Notice, unlike other statues of Artemis, the Gabii Artemis even has a himation, which she is securing over her shoulder. Compare her dress to that of the Amazon below, whose chiton is similarly belted, but who is identified as one of the famous warrior women and not as their patron goddess Artemis by her bare left breast.

[Plaster cast of the “Wounded Amazon”]

[The original from the Capitoline Museums in Rome]

This might have been a nod to the famous folk etymology of the women’s name (Ἀμαζόνες from ἀμαζός — “breastless”), that the Amazons burned or cut off their right breast, supposedly to keep it out of the way of their bow-wielding arm. There is no mention of this mutilation specifically in mythology before it’s reported by the 2nd century Latin historian Marcus Justinus, but many Greek statues like the one below (which is a plaster cast of a Roman copy of a Greek original) show Amazons with one of their breasts covered. Unlike the Romans’ interest in realistic sculpture, Greek sculpture is always of the ideal, so even if this quirky etymology isn’t a fabrication (extremely debatable), it would have been unthinkable for Praxiteles or any other Greek sculptor to create a mutilated figure. Especially since so much Greek sculpture was sacred, meaning it was destined for display in a temple, and as we discussed with Phryne’s legal difficulties, the gods liked beautiful things. Sacrificial animals must be blemishless, and Amazons must have both of their breasts.

Okay, okay, I know I promised to talk about something other than more plaster casts, but I singled out the Artemis of Gabii because I also promised that we’d take a look at how the influence of the classical world reverberates through Western art and intellectual thought. And the Greek goddess of the hunt is our first bridge— to one of my favorite pieces over at the art museum: American sculptor Paul Manship’s paired Art Deco sculptures of Diana (Artemis’ Roman counterpart) and Actaeon.

[Diana and Actaeon (1923)]


[Diana (Artemis)]

The first thing one notices is that Manship’s Artemis has shed her Attic modesty, here depicted as fully nude, though she does still has her himation caught around her arms. Some of this is Manship’s predilection for lithe classical nudes (arguably his most famous sculpture is the golden Prometheus in front of Rockefeller Center in New York City), but it is also appropriate for the myth he’s showing here. Like most Greek myths, there are several versions of the story, but the most well-known is the one Ovid gives us in The Metamorphoses, which he seems to have gotten from the Alexandrian poet Callimachus. Actaeon is hunting with his dogs when he stumbles on Artemis bathing naked, who punishes this accidental transgression by transforming Actaeon into a stag, which his dogs then pursue and tear apart. Above, Actaeon is just beginning his metamorphosis, indicated by his horns. Artemis is shown running away from him, accompanied by one of Actaeon’s dogs, mostly likely for compositional balance, but to also highlight her role as the goddess of animals. Her bow aimed at Actaeon doesn’t directly correspond with most versions of the myth, where the goddess doesn’t bother to pursue Actaeon herself, but may be meant to convey how it is her will that is impelling the dogs. Below, you’ll see Titian does something very similar in his painting Death of Actaeon.

[Death of Actaeon (1560s-70s]

Another piece connected with this Artemis is different sculpture from the same time period by the French sculptor Lucien Alliot, Diane Chasseresse (Diana the Huntress). While not currently on display, it is available in CMOA’s online collections database, which is a blast to browse. Alliot’s Diana pulls back her bow at an unseen enemy, himation equally ineffective. But something I love about both of these sculptures is they are as much of their own time as that of the classical past. Manship’s Diana has the long, slender body of a stylish flapper, and Alliot’s has a flapper’s scandalous bobbed hair. It’s an interesting juxtaposition to cross the sexually liberated visual lexicon of flapper culture with the fiercely virginal Artemis/Diana, who sends a man to a gruesome death for being in the wrong place at the wrong time because she believes her chastity to be under threat.

[Diane Chasseresse (1920s-30s)]

On the wall next to Diana and Actaeon hangs the CMOA’s largest Art Deco piece, Jean-Théodore Dupas’ Chariot of Aurora. This massive series of relief panels are actually plaster, with a metal leaf and lacquer finish. Aurora is the goddess of the dawn, the Roman counterpart of Greek Eos, a Titan and daughter of Hyperion. The Titans were the old gods of the Greco-Roman pantheon, older than gods like Artemis, and that’s why they’re often associated with ancient things beyond the earth like the sun and stars. 

[Chariot of Aurora (1935)]

Dupas’ wall sculpture is full of Aurora’s attributes, with the risen sun at the very center of the composition. It is likely that the figure in the bottom left corner is Aurora herself, holding her flaming torch which signifies her role as a light bringer. Unlike the chaste Artemis, Aurora is most often depicted pursuing mortal lovers, so is usually shown in various states of deshabille and with flowers, as a sign of the fertility the sun brings to the earth. Compare with Francesco Solimena’s Aurora Taking Leave of Tithonus below.

[Aurora in the Chariot of Aurora]

[Aurora Taking Leave of Tithonus (1704)]

In the top left, you can see one of the figures carrying a cornucopia, as well as a figure pouring out an amphora opposite this on the right side, both for the aforementioned fertility of the dawn. The two figures facing one another across the scene blowing air toward the sun also have their basis in Aurora’s iconography. They likely reference the Greek belief that Aurora/Eos was the mother of the Anemoi, the winds, by the god Astraeus, the god of the stars. While ostensibly female, this might also account for the star-covered figure opposite Aurora in the right bottom corner. While not perhaps the intent of the sculptor, in the star woman, I personally saw the Egyptian sky goddess Nut, whose iconography is often similar.

[Star goddess of Chariot of Aurora]

[Nut shown as the night sky]

But while a lot of Art Deco looked backwards for classical models and subjects, the art period of Neoclassicism (mid 18th-early 19th centuries, mostly) is where the CMOA’s collection sees its biggest classical impact outside of the Hall of Architecture. Neoclassicism sprung up as the cultural partner of the Enlightenment, which was the dominant intellectual movement of the same period. Both were a reaction against the heavily ornate and artificial aesthetic of Rococo and voluptuous world typified by the court of Louis XIV. While the Enlightenment looked to usher in an age of science and reason, in part modeled on the great classical thinkers, Neoclassicism turned to the clean lines and comparatively simple designs of Greek and Roman art for inspiration. Classical architecture was en vogue for government buildings as well as private homes, and classical subject matter dominated the other visual arts.

Antonio Canova’s sculpture of Terpsichore (1812), the muse of dance (though the full sculpture title implies she is the muse of lyric poetry, which generally more her sister Erato’s bailiwick), is a great example of Neoclassical sculpture. Unlike what Art Deco sculptors would do to update their models later, Canova has gone through great lengths to mimic Greek sculpture down to the smallest detail of chiton and hairstyle. Surprise, surprise, it turns out this too is a plaster cast, but this cast was made by Canova not as a copy, but as a dry run for the actual sculpting in marble. By a strange coincidence, I’ve actually seen the finished marble as well, when I lived in Cleveland, at the Cleveland Museum of Art.

[Forgive the quality— this was long enough ago I might have taken this with a camera and not a phone… But you can tell this is the marble because Canova has to leave in the little bridge between the end of Terpsichore’s pigtail and the back of her head to support the weight of the stone.]

[See how the CMOA’s version is free floating?]

What confused me on first blush was that the position of the sculptures’ heads are not the same, so for years I didn’t recognize them as technically the same work. But CMOA’s information says that Canova and his workshop fiddled around with the plaster cast for nearly three years before the marble was begun and many revisions were made on it and with the final result, the angle of the head being the most obvious.

Next to Terpsichore is a full-length portrait of Mrs. Trevor (1780) by the English artist George Romney, more famous for his many, many portraits of Lord Horatio Nelson’s mistress, Emma Hamilton.

[Emma Hamilton, appropriately for the Neoclassical period, as a bacchante. With a rare early 19th century full smile as a bonus.]

While the Honorable (title, not moral judgment) Mrs. Trevor is depicted a little more sedately than Emma, her portrait is a perfect example of Neoclassicism. Rather than late Georgian or early Empire style, she wears a flowing chiton-type dress with a himation pinned to shoulders just like the one the Gabii Artemis is pinning into place. Her hair is loosely pulled up with Greek-style bands and she stands in the shadow of imposing classical columns. Like the Gabii Artemis, she wears no jewelry; and like Terpsichore, her only adornment is the lyre she holds. Along with the large book and pipe instruments gathered at the foot of the painting, the portrait conveys the sitter’s desire to both be viewed in light of a chaste and heroic past, and at the same time, as being at the very cutting edge of taste in her own time. 

Lastly, since we’ve shown how Neoclassicism emulated classical art in style, I also want to show how it interpreted classical events. Because during the Enlightenment, it was also fashionable to depict famous scenes from antiquity for a new audience, since, as we’ve seen before, ancient painting doesn’t exactly have a strong survival track record. A good example of this that the CMOA owns is Swiss painter Angelica Kauffman’s Virgil Writing His Epitath at Brundisi (1785).

Here, Kauffman depicts a dying Virgil writing out his epitaph with his friends, Lucius Varius Rufus and Plotius Tucca, look on, and whom I believe is supposed to be a grieving Calliope, the muse of epic poetry. Though, I should point out that CMOA only acquired this in 2019, when I was already eyeball-deep in writing my third and final book in my God’s Wife trilogy (it’s slowly coalescing, hang in there!), and I stepped into the galleries one day and ran smack into this. Which, for reasons that will unfortunately be slightly shrouded in mystery for now, made me do a double take. But know that I was on board with Kauffman’s vision. Who, for the record, was one of only two female painters who helped establish the Royal Academy in 1768.

[Here is a self-portrait of her torn between music and painting]

[And her version of a younger Virgil making Octavia faint over his Marcellus scene in the Aeneid]

Anyway, back in Virgil Writing His Epitaph, Calliope is standing with her right arm over, presumably, the Aeneid’s scrolls, with an unstrung lyre at her feet, signaling the end of Virgil’s “song.” The epitaph Kauffman has written out on the scroll the poet is writing on says in Latin, “Mantua gave me life; Calabria snatched me away; and now Naples holds me; I sang of shepherds, fields, and wars.” There is some debate on whom the bust above the principal figures is— the idea that makes the most sense is probably Octavius, as Virgil’s overarching patron. It’s not the most faithful likeness, though the face is similar to that of the Octavius in the Octavia painting above (the standing man at the far left). But both might have been based on, say, the Blacas Cameo, which shows Octavius as a little more full of face in profile than, for example, the Prima Porta Augustus we looked at last week.

[The Blacas Cameo (c. 20-50 AD), now at the British Museum]

[Another similar cameo]

[Wait, are you calling me fat?]

Not, exactly. The Blacas Cameo is obviously still a very idealized portrait, but it is generally considered the “approved” way to depict Octavius as an older man. Also, as a portrait created after his death, his portraiture would be more agelessly majestic, reflecting Octavius’ post-mortem status as the Divus Augustus, the Deified Augustus, rather than his to-life depictions. Those were idealized as well, but also clearly reflect some of Octavius’ real facial features. 

So, with that, we’ve gone from classical works to 20th century Art Deco, to 18th century Neoclassicism, and finally right back classical art once more. But in doing so, I feel like I’ve left out the CMNH after we met Dippy, and not even touched on the museums’ small but worthwhile Egyptian collection. But, because of a turn of the century decision of questionable cultural sensitivity, Edwardian natural history museums have traditionally housed Egyptian antiquities even though even our great-grandparents mostly agreed that the ancient Egyptians were, in fact, people, and not plants, animals, or geological phenomena. However, in this limited capacity, this fluke will be our gain, and I’ll take all of you back to the museums one more time next week and we’ll look at some cool Egyptian stuff. Stay tuned!

[We might wander into the Geology wing if anything shiny catches our attention.]

[I feel attacked…]

[It works on like eight different levels…]

%d bloggers like this: