Saturday, July 20, 2013

Public Sculpture: Andrew Dickson White at Home on Cornell Quad

Cross posted from Public Art and Memory

Public Sculpture: Andrew Dickson White at Home on Cornell Quad

Ithaca, NY. Andrew Dickson White statue on Cornell University quad. Karl Bitter, sculptor, 1915. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2012.

Public Sculpture: Andrew Dickson White at Home on Cornell Quad
by Samuel D. Gruber

I recently wrote about the monument to Syracuse fireman and philanthropist Hamilton S. White.  Now I'd like to turn to a statue of his cousin, Andrew Dickson White (1832 – 1918), who is sitting pretty on Cornell University's historic quad, in Ithaca, New York.  Andrew White was an educator, diplomat, historian, and bibliophile. 

White was also co-founder with Ezra Cornell of Cornell University, where today he sits in bronze, very much at home in front of the classical style Goodwin Smith Hall.   The statue, by noted American Renaissance sculptor Karl Theodore Francis Bitter (1867-1915), was installed almost a century ago, in 1915.    Austrian-born Bitter was a leading sculptor of memorials and architectural sculpture.

Bitter and White chose the seated position for the commemorative statue. He had previously used the pose for a statue to Dr. William Pepper, placed on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania in 1896, and in 1914 and 1915, about the time he was working on the Andrew White representation, on statues of Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton

Philadelphia, Pa. Statue of Dr. William Pepper, University of Pennsylvania. Karl Bitter, sculptor 1896.  Photo from Schevill, Ferdinand, Karl Bitter: A Biography (Chicago, Illinois: University of Chicago Press, 1917).

This posture has a long tradition; in Greek and Roman sculpture philosophers, poets (and some gods) were often depicted seated, and roman emperors were also sometimes shown seated.  Statues of enthroned leaders - emperors, kings and popes - have been common since the Middle Ages.  For men of ideas and culture the seated posture came with age and implied sagacity, and this format was especially revived by sculptors of the American Renaissance movement as an alternative to the ever-popular standing and equestian figure formats.   There are many early 20th-century examples of seated figures, and in my recent travels I seem to be quite attuned to them.   For example, a seated figure of Benjamin Franklin by sculptor John J. Boyle was installed in 1899 in front of Philadelphia's Main Post Office, at 9th and Chestnut Streets (it is now on the University of Pennsylvania campus), and a copy was placed in Paris in 1905. 

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