Vanderbilt Mantelpiece

Maker: Augustus Saint-Gaudens (American, Dublin 1848–1907 Cornish, New Hampshire)

Date: ca. 1881–83

Geography: Made in New York, New York, United States

Culture: American

Medium: Marble, mosaic, oak, and cast iron

Dimensions: 184 3/8 x 154 7/8 x 37 1/4 in. (468.3 x 393.4 x 94.6 cm)

Classification: Architecture

Credit Line: Gift of Mrs. Cornelius Vanderbilt II, 1925

Accession Number: 25.234


This elaborate mantelpiece originally dominated the entry hall of the palatial residence of Cornelius Vanderbilt II at Fifth Avenue and 57th Street. Saint-Gaudens designed two classical caryatids, which support the expansive entablature with their heads and upraised arms. The left caryatid holds a scroll inscribed "Amor" (Love); ivy leaves are twined in her hair and around her waist, and her gown falls to the ground in rippling folds. The right figure, with head bowed to her chest, has a similar scroll inscribed "Pax" (Peace). Her tunic is similar to that of Amor, and her waist is encircled with laurel leaves. Both heads have inverted shells behind them. The frieze is carved with acanthus-leaf rinceaux diverging from the center. Acorns—symbols from the Vanderbilt arms—are intertwined with the foliage at regular intervals. A large overmantel mosaic flanked by narrow decorative panels and marble pilasters tops the mantel shelf. The central mosaic, designed by Saint-Gaudens, depicts a classically dressed woman seated on a red bench holding garlands that are caught up by cartouches on either side. The right medallion contains the family's coat of arms, and the left one bears the rampant lion of the Vanderbilt crest and the inscription DEO NON FORTUNA (by God's grace not fortune's). The inscription of hospitality that flanks the head of the seated figure may be translated as "The house at its threshold gives evidence of the master's good will. Welcome to the guest who arrives; farewell and helpfulness to him who departs."
The Vanderbilt mansion was dismantled and razed between 1925 and 1927, at which time Vanderbilt's widow gave the mantel to the Museum.