Augustus Saint–Gaudens (American, 18481907)
Bronze, gilt; 101 3/4 x 53 1/2 x 14 1/8 in. (258.5 x 135.9 x 35.9 cm)
Rogers Fund, 1928 (28.101)
At the request of architect Stanford White, Saint-Gaudens created a revolving finial to surmount the tower of White's Madison Square Garden (completed in 1891). Although already occupied with other commissions, Saint-Gaudens welcomed the opportunity to create what would be the only female nude in his oeuvre. His son Homer later recalled that the sculptor took on the project as a labor of love and consented "to give his work upon it, provided White pay the expenses." Known for his realistic and often heroic portraiture, Saint-Gaudens found in Diana an opportunity to work in an ideal vein. His interpretation of the Roman goddess of the moon and the hunt eschews the traditional full-bodied huntress, instead focusing on simple, elegant lines and a strong silhouette reminiscent of a New England weathervane. Installed in 1891, Diana was designed to rotate easily with her bow and arrow as the pointer and her billowing swath as the rudder. Saint-Gaudens and White soon realized that the 18-foot-high Diana was disproportionately large for White's tower and that the figure could not revolve in the wind, as intended, because it was too heavy. After removing this version in 1892, a 13-foot-high Diana (now in the Philadelphia Museum of Art) was hoisted onto the Madison Square Garden tower the following year. This version, also of hammered and gilt sheet copper, retained the flying drapery of the larger version, but with refinements. The Metropolitan's gilt bronze Diana is a half-size model of the second version, produced posthumously in 1928 from an original cement cast owned by the White family. It lacks the flying draperies of the original versions.