And see who's brooding in the shadows behind her?
It's Abe Lincoln. (As sculpted by Augustus Saint-Gaudens in 1922.) The lady is "The Greek Slave," sculpted by Hiram S. Powers, an American, in 1869.
The museum is clearly set up for the benefit of the many schoolchildren who pass through, and I don't know how teachers use this particular juxtaposition, but obviously they are supposed to do something here.
Here's what the museum's website says about the slave statue, which is absurdly out of touch with the slave experience:
Hiram Powers was part of a large community of expatriate American sculptors who lived in Italy in order to obtain the training, materials, and assistants necessary to create monumental Neoclassical sculpture in marble. This work, the last of six versions Powers made (the first version dates from 1841–47), represents the plight of Greek women who were enslaved during their war of independence with the Turks (1821–30). The image of a naked, manacled woman took on added significance in antebellum America, where it came to be associated with this nation's enslaved blacks. When it was exhibited, The Greek Slave attracted large audiences and elicited impassioned commentary from priests, critics, and others sympathetic to the abolitionist cause. For example, one reporter for an antislavery newspaper wrote: "As this elegant statue traverses the land, may many … be awakened to a sense of the enormity of slavery.… Waste not your sympathies on the senseless marble, but reserve some tears for the helpless humanity that lies quivering beneath the lash of American freemen!"What would you say if you were herding school kids through an art museum and they rounded the corner to see this dramatically lit — dazzlingly white — beautiful naked woman? It would take a long time before the kids would perceive Abe. Could you wrestle the sensory input and intense emotions into the teaching moment about American slavery this is supposed to be?
IN THE COMMENTS: Lots of great stuff but I must highlight this from JohnAnnArbor:
Augustus Saint-Gaudens died in 1907. So what's up with the post-death statue?Good question for the kids to ask the teacher. I mean, I was just reading the museum's own label:
If I were the teacher, winging it, I'd say:
Well, children, do you think a dead man could sculpt Lincoln? Did he need to die to find Lincoln in Heaven so he could get him to sit for a portrait? [Kids laugh.] Do you think the museum made a mistake on the label? Let's assume it's not a mistake. How could the numbers be right? [Get kids to notice that this is a bronze cast and that Saint-Gaudens probably worked in clay and someone else did the casting, and 1922 is probably the year the bronze was made.]