Investigations into early Christianity constantly renourished Roman Catholicism in the nineteenth century. A best-selling novel by the Irish-born cardinal Nicholas Patrick Wiseman, Fabiola, or the Church of the Catacombs (1854), widely translated, was Alexander Falguière’s immediate source for this sculpture. In the novel, the teenage acolyte Tarcisius is conveying the Host along the Appian Way when he is confronted by pagan playmates who order him to reveal it. He refuses and they stone him. Here, the fallen martyr exhibits a bloodied forehead as well as an expression of beatific rapture as he clutches the holy wafer in his arms, faithful to the end. The fatal paving stones lie at his elbow. A photograph in the Musée Rodin, Paris, shows how Falguière blocked out the pose using a live model, aged about fifteen, covered by massive drapery instead of a tunic and soft boots. The first marble, in the Musée d’Orsay, Paris, is dated 1868. In this second version, Falguière seems to have defied the marble’s hardness to create instead a semblance of immateriality.
Signature: Signed on top of base at front right corner: A. Falguiere
Inscription: On top of base: TARCISIVM . SANCTVM . CHRISTI . SACRAMENTA . GERENTEM . CVM . MALESA . NA [sic: male sana] . MANVS PETERET . VVLGARE . PROFANIS . IPSE . ANIMAM . POTIVS . VOLVIT . DIMITTERE . CAESVS . PRODERE . QVAM . CANIBVS . RABIDIS . COELESTIA . MEMBRA . [trans.: “While Saint Tarcisius was carrying the Blessed Sacrament of Christ, a band of thugs demanded that he relinquish it into their profane hands. However, thrown to the ground, he preferred to give up his own life rather than relinquish the celestial body to enraged dogs.”]
Alexandre Falguière (until his death 1900) ; by descent, wife of Alexandre Falguière (1900–07; her estate sale, Georges Petit, Paris, May 14–15, 1907, no. 8; to Laffon for 3600 francs); Emile Laffon ; Baron Henri de Rothschild , Château de La Muette, Paris ; duc de Trévise , Château de Sceaux ; by descent, the marquis de Vibraye , Château de Cheverny, Loir-et-Cher ; [ Charles Janoray, LLC , New York, until 2007; sold to MMA ]