Moses Jacob Ezekiel
Moses Jacob Ezekiel in 1914
|Born||October 28, 1844|
Richmond, Virginia, U.S.
|Died||March 27, 1917 (aged 72)|
|Education||Virginia Military Institute|
Moses Jacob Ezekiel, also known as Moses "Ritter von" Ezekiel (October 28, 1844 – March 27, 1917), was a Sephardic Jewish-American sculptor who lived and worked in Rome for the majority of his career. Ezekiel was "the first American-born Jewish artist to receive international acclaim."
Among his numerous honors and prizes was the title of Cavaliere given by the Italian government. At the age of 29, Ezekiel was the first foreigner to win the Michel-Beer Prix de Rome.
He had been a cadet at the Virginia Military Institute and served on the Confederate side in the American Civil War, including at the Battle of New Market. He is the only well-known sculptor to have seen action in the Civil War.
After the war, he completed his degree at VMI, and a few years later went to Berlin, where he studied at the Prussian Academy of Art. He moved to Rome, where he lived and worked most of his life, selling his works internationally, including as commissions in the United States. He has been described as a "Confederate expatriate".
Ezekiel was a "proud Southerner", and the Confederate battle flag hung in his Rome studio for 40 years. He was a postwar friend of Robert E. Lee, who recommended he become "an artist".:124 Some of the most celebrated statues by Ezekiel were of heroes of the Confederacy. The most famous of his monuments is the Confederate Memorial in Arlington National Cemetery, which he thought of as the "crowning achievement of his career." However, despite entering at least four contests to make a public sculpture of Robert E. Lee — "the one work I would love to do above anything else in the world":171 — it did not come to fruition.
Ezekiel was born in Richmond, Virginia, the son of Jacob Ezekiel (1812–1899), who was Ashkenazic; his mother, Catherine de Castro Ezekiel, was Sephardic. His grandparents had emigrated from Holland (a Sephardic center) in the early 1800s, settling first in Philadelphia and later in Richmond.:3 His father was a cotton merchant and bookbinder, "a good writer and a well-read man, who possessed the complete works of Maimonides";:76 while in the book-binding business in Baltimore (1833–34), he founded the Hebrew Benevolent Society of Baltimore. Jacob moved to Richmond in 1834, entering the dry-goods business with first one, then another brother-in-law.:16 n. 10 He was Secretary of the synagogue Kahal Kadosh Beth Shalome "and spokesman of the Jews of Richmond",:16 n. 10 and later, in Cincinnati, was Secretary of the Board of Hebrew Union College. He was a charter member of B'nai B'rith.
Moses had three brothers and eight sisters; another source says he had 4 brothers and 9 sisters;:3 at least one was stillborn.:88 He was the 7th child;:3 another source says he was 5th of 14.:14 Although he was not observant as an adult, he was brought up as an observant Jew by his grandparents, where his parents sent him because of financial problems.:3 ("My father was so very good-hearted that he ruined himself by signing bonds for some of his relatives who afterwards failed in business. That reduced my parents to absolute poverty for a long time.":88) They owned a dry-goods store that sold suits and women's dresses for slaves about to be sold; they also owned a few slaves. He "was sent to a 'pay' school", that of "old Mr. Burton Davis".:91 He also attended dancing school.:85, 101
Alice Johnson (1859–1924) was Moses's daughter. According to a census document of July 14, 1860, she was 10 months old and thus was born in September 1859, and conceived at the very beginning of 1859. Moses was 14. Her mother was Isabella, a "beautiful mulatto housemaid" of his father;:148 she was 23 at the time of the census. That Moses's father Jacob knew of the incident has been questioned,:148 but he could not help but know that Isabella was pregnant and gave birth to a daughter. Isabella, with Alice, visited Moses in Rome, but returned shortly thereafter. Moses never refers to her in his Memoirs, and there is no record of any other contact between them. She married Daniel Hale Williams, a pioneering heart surgeon.
When Fort Sumter was fired upon and Virginia seceded, Ezekiel enrolled in the Virginia Military Institute in Lexington, Virginia, the first Jewish cadet (student) to do so. He was Corporal of the Guard that accompanied the coffin of Stonewall Jackson (a Virginia Military Institute instructor) at his burial in Lexington in 1863.:43 He and other cadets from VMI marched 80 miles north and fought at the 1864 Battle of New Market. He was wounded in a fight with Union army troops under Franz Sigel. After his recovery, he served with the cadets in Richmond to train new recruits for the army. Shortly before the end of the war, he served in the trenches defending the city.
Following the Civil War, Ezekiel returned to VMI to finish his education, graduating in 1866. He studied anatomy at the Medical College of Virginia in 1866–1868, thinking of becoming a doctor.:127–128:17 In 1867–1868, he was superintendent of the Richmond Hebrew Sunday School.
He moved in with his parents in Cincinnati in 1868; his parents had moved there, where their oldest daughter Hannah lived, after losing their business in Richmond to fire.:128:17 In Cincinnati he began the study of sculpture, studying at the Art School of J. Insco Williams and in the studio of Thomas Dow Jones.:130 While not there long, in his memoirs he calls Cincinnati his home.
Moving to Berlin in 1869, he studied at the Prussian Academy of Art under Professor Albert Wolf. In 1872 he met there Fedor Encke (1851–1926), the "illegitimate grandson of King Friedrich Wilhelm II of Prussia." Encke was a portrait painter later commissioned to do portraits of Theodore Roosevelt and John Pierpont Morgan, among others; he also painted Ezekiel.:i Thay was the beginning of "a forty-five year homosexual relationship…that neither acknowledged publicly" although he referrsd to Encke as "my dear friend".:209 "The couple traveled together often and socialized with Europe's elites, including Hungarian composer Franz Liszt, French actress Sarah Bernhardt and Queen Margherita of Italy." Encke accompanied Ezekiel on a visit to the United States.:49
Needing money, in 1873, during the Franco-Prussian War, he was a war correspondent for the New York Herald,:4 and he was arrested and imprisoned "for a time" as a spy for France. He was admitted into the Society of Artists, Berlin, and at age 29 was the first foreigner to win the Michael Beer Prix de Rome, for a bas relief entitled Israel. The prize of $1,000 provided for two years of study in Rome,:229 but he traveled to Rome by way of the United States, where he had not been for five years,:166 as he had "unexpectedly" received a commission from B'nai B'rith for a monument to Religious Liberty.:164:41
Arriving in Rome in 1874, he fell in love with the Eternal City, which he soon made his home. It was there that he completed the sculptures and paintings for which he is famous.
"Ezekiel found both personal and artistic freedom in Rome. He dressed like a dandy and spent extravagantly on entertaining friends, clients, and potential clients." His studio in Rome was in the former Baths of Diocletian, where every Friday afternoon he had open house.:233 It was called "one of the Show Places of the Eternal City, magnificent in proportions and stored with fine art works," and many visitors have left us descriptions of it.:24
Perhaps the most characteristic of his creations was the celebrated studio.… Here in the vaulted thermae built in the days of Diocletian he had gathered together treasures from many lands and ages. Ancient marbles and alabasters, bronzes, costly metals and relics beautified with precious stones, medieval parchments and church ornaments, oriental ivories, velvets and silks hung on all sides, in alluring contrast to the latter-day furniture and the twentieth century grand piano, proclaiming the broad sympathies and the catholic tastes of this citizen of the world.:230
Under a leafy arbor, a paved stairway leads up to a vineclad terrace, from which you have an extensive view of the surroundings. Doves have built their nests in the masonry and flit fearlessly to and fro about you. Works of art, vases, fragments of old armor, antique heads and ornaments gleam through the dark foliage. Artists' hands have appropriately ornamented the interior of the high hall; pillars, rich with carving of vines, uphold the arches; lamps and statuettes occupy the mantels; tapestries and paintings adorn the walls. Hours might be spent in examining the works of art, great and small, in this wondrous room. Nothing is commonplace: every seat, every cloth, every cup and dish, every furnishing, bears its individual stamp. And yet this immense hall is a wonderfully cozy place, with its many retired nooks where you may settle yourself comfortably and admire and enjoy the casts of the sculptor's busts and statues all about you. A company, among whom were members of the court, [of] foreign ambassadors and their ladies met here recently to view the artist's latest work before he sent it to its destination beyond the Atlantic. For this purpose they descended into a lower hall, where the chiseling in marble is done. There, on her last couch, they saw a beautiful, tranquil woman, in flowing robes…the breath of life seemed to have just flown; nothing rigid marked the eternal slumber.
"His picturesque studio in the Baths of Diocletian was the rendezvous of all important American visitors and the most prominent representatives of art." Among the visitors to his studio were Gabriele d'Annunzio,:201 the Queen of Italy Margherita of Savoy,:414 General and future President Ulysses Grant,:198–199 Franz Liszt,:254 U.S. ambassador to Italy John Stallo,:259 Cardenal Gustav Adolf Hohenlohe, who became a friend, writer Annie Besant,:275 railroad magnate Melville Ingalls,:275 engineer Benjamin Hotchkiss, and Emperor Wilhelm II of Germany.:313 A lecture in his studio was attended by 150 people.:275 He also hosted musicales;:42 "here one heard the finest music by the greatest talent".:233
Ezekiel occupied this studio from 1879 to 1910.:42 After 30 years, the government "demand[ed] the possession of this part of the ruins as an adjunct to the National Museum. On leaving there he was given by the municipal authorities the Tower of Belisarius on the Pincian Hill overlooking the Borghese Gardens, which furnished him a home for the rest of his years, while he took a studio and work rooms in the Via Fausta aandjust off the Piazza del Popolo."
Ezekiel died in his studio in Rome, Italy, and was temporarily entombed there; this was in the middle of the First World War. In 1921, he was reinterred at the foot of his Confederate Memorial in Section 16 of Arlington National Cemetery. The inscription on his grave reads "Moses J. Ezekiel Sergeant of Company C Battalion of Cadets of the Virginia Military Institute."
In the early 1880s, Ezekiel created eleven larger-than-life sized statues of famous artists. These were installed in niches on the façade of the Corcoran Gallery of Art's original building (now the Smithsonian's Renwick Gallery). In the early 1960s, they were removed to the Norfolk Botanical Garden in Norfolk, Virginia.
Although Ezekiel never married, he had a daughter, Alice Johnson (1879-1926). Her mixed-race mother was a maid in Washington, DC, where Johnson grew up. She was in contact with her father throughout his life. After graduating from Howard University, she became a schoolteacher. She married Daniel Hale Williams in 1898, who was also mixed race. He became a prominent, pioneering heart surgeon. They lived in Chicago for much of his career.
Among his noted works was a memorial at VMI, Virginia Mourning Her Dead (1903), for which he declined payment. It was installed in the small cemetery where six of the 10 VMI cadets killed at the Battle of New Market are buried. He also created a Confederate memorial which he called New South (1914); it was installed at Arlington National Cemetery. Many of his works were of noted leaders.
In his lifetime, Ezekiel received numerous honors: he was decorated by King Umberto I of Italy, the "Crosses for Merit and Art" from the German Emperor, another from Prince Frederick Johann of Saxe-Meiningen, and the awards of "Chevalier" (Cavaliere) and "Officer of the Crown of Italy" (1910) from King Victor Emmanuel III of Italy. Ezekiel received the Gold Medal of the Royal Society of Palermo, Italy; the Silver Medal at the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition in St. Louis, Missouri; and the Raphael Medal from the Art Society of Urbino, Italy.
The honorific "Sir" by which Ezekiel is often referred is technically incorrect, as Ezekiel was never knighted by the monarch of the United Kingdom. More properly, his title was "Cavaliere" Moses Ezekiel, because of his Italian knighthood, or Moses "Ritter von" Ezekiel, because of his German honors. Ezekiel translated his Italian title into the English "Sir" on his visiting cards, resulting in the honorific by which he became known in English-speaking countries.
Although in 1876 he was compared with Michelangelo, Ezekiel's fame has not stood the test of time. "Famous in his day, he is almost forgotten now." "The art world ignored and forgot him because he never innovated; he emulated the classical style of the previous masters…even when the time for that style had come and gone." According to his biographer Peter Nash, "You wouldn't go to Rome to make new, progressive art." "He could not accept modern art", and "rejected" Rodin, who he considered "pretentious".:61, 399–400
"As was his custom with his monuments, Ezekiel proceeded meticulously to reflect historical accuracy,":37 according to the editors of his memoirs.
[But his works] are utterly devoid of innovations or daring new modes of representation. His prime concern was the literary and historical idea behind the work…. But he failed to realize, like other 19th-century artists, that noble thoughts alone do not guarantee that the works they inspire will be great art… he frequently sacrificed his design to accurate depiction and photographic truth.
Ezekiel apparently did not keep a register of the works he had created, and creating a list is not a trivial task. Some of them have been moved, in some cases more than once. Sometimes dates found are of the work's creation, at other times of its installation or unveiling. In some cases the work is known by more than one name. There are clay models both of works he created and of those he did not.
A single word that could be applied to Ezekiel's statues, which he frequently used himself,:139, 164, 409, etc. is "colossal": his "genius often asserts itself in colossal figures and emblematic monuments". His never-built statue of Johns Hopkins, founder of Johns Hopkins University, was to have been over 15 feet (4.6 m) high, with a "colossal" bust of Hopkins, in bronze, 21⁄2 times life size. His most important statues are huge, and in one case he claimed that it was the largest statue ever made.
He excelled in portrait busts and executed many of them in marble and bronze; that of “Washington,” now in the Cincinnati Art Museum, giving him his professional start in Berlin. Those of Franz Liszt and Cardinal Gustave von Hohenlohe gained for him the Knighthood for “Science and http://collections.americanjewisharchives.org/ms/ms0044/ms0044.html
In an obituary in the New York Times, almost identical to one in American Art News, after mentioning the busts of his friends Cardinal Hohenlohe, Franz Liszt, to whom he was introduced by Hohenlohe, and the Grand Duke of Saxe Meiningen,
'The Sailor Boy,' 'Grace Darling', and 'Mercury,' owned by Mrs. Hannah E. Workman of Cincinnati, t
he the bronze bust of Robert E. Lee for H. C. Ezekiel of Cincinnati, bas reliefs of 'Pan' and 'Amor' for Mrs. Charles Fleischmann of Cincinnati; marble torso 'Judith' for Mrs. Bellamy Storer, marble bust of 'Christ; for J. N. McKay of Baltimore, bronze bust of General Hotchkins in the Navy Yard, Washington, marble statue 'Lee a Boy' in Westmoreland, Va.; a monument to Jesse Seligman at the Jewish Orphan Asylum, N. Y., a colossal statue of Columbus, Columbus Memorial Building, Chicago; heroic bronze monument to Thomas Jefferson at Louisville, and 'The Outlook' for the Confederate Cemetery at Johnson's Island, Ohio. He also executed the Fountain of Neptune for the City of Netturno, Italy, and busts of many prominent persons both here and abroad."
The following list of his major works is
The Life and Times of Moses Jacob Ezekiel: American Sculptor, Arcadian Knighy
Peter Adam Nash. 2014 . Nash, Peter Adam.
Ezekiel, Moses Jacob, 1844-1917. Sculptors — United States — Biography. Jewish artists — United States — Biography. 1. Spanish Roots -- 2. Youth and War -- 3. Europe: The Awakening -- 4. "Ecco Roma"—5. Baths of Diocletian—6. Swarming Beliefs and Causes—7. Against the Tide—8. Trials and Tribulations—9. Final Years.
Ezekiel is the sculptor Askol in Carel Vosmaer's novel The Amazon, in which Ezekiel's studio is described in detail,:15 It is also described in Mary Agnes Tincker's The Jewel in the Lotus;:66 "the opening pages depict the studio of Salathiel, the sculptor, the original of which character in the novel was Moses Ezekiel.":27
A poem about his Israel was written by Pietschmann, of Berlin (the source does not give his first name),:10–11
Another description of his studio, by Lilian V. de Bosis, was published in the May, 1891, issue of 'kTye Esquiline.:25–26
The American Jewish Archives, in Cincinnati, has a "Moses Jacob Ezekiel Collection." It "includes original and photocopies of Ezekiel's correspondence and writings, photographs of many of his works, biographies, genealogies, memorial tributes, correspondence of Ezekiel's biographers, articles and newsclippings concerning Ezekiel and miscellaneous items." http://collections.americanjewisharchives.org/ms/ms0044/ms0044.html
Virginia Military Institute has two boxes of Ezekiel papers. "Included is correspondence to Virginia Military Institute Superintendent Edward West Nichols and others, 1867 – 1917, some relating to the design of the Battle of New Market memorial sculpture Virginia Mourning Her Dead; pen and ink sketches by Ezekiel (ca. 67 items); the typed manuscript of Ezekiel's autobiography, Memoirs from the Baths of Diocletian, and miscellaneous printed material." Ezekiel's Memoirs, a fundamental source, were unknown until they were rediscovered in the Hebrew Union Archives by the two rabbis, who after much editorial work, prepared them for publication in 1975. They were called "gossipy" but "readable" in a review.
Some additional material is in the archives of Congregation Beth Ahabah, of Richmond, which contains the archive of Jacob Ezekiel's synagogue, Kahal Kadosh Beth Shalome, the Hebrew Union College of Cincinnati, on whose board of directors Jacob was secretary, and the organizations such as B'nai Brith and United Daughters of the Confederacy that commissioned sculptures.
Bas relief of Sarah Workum, private collection.
Virginia Mourning Her Dead (1903), Virginia Military Institute, Lexington, VA.
Anthony J. Drexel (1904), Drexel University, Philadelphia, PA.
Bust of Anthony J. Drexel (1905), Drexel University, Philadelphia, PA.
The Lookout (1910), Confederate Cemetery, Johnson's Island, OH.
Jefferson Monument (1910), University of Virginia, Charlottesville, VA.
Bust of Andrew Gregg Curtin (1912), Smith Memorial Arch, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Confederate Memorial (Arlington National Cemetery) (1914), Arlington, VA.
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