Saturday, January 26, 2008

Chapter 2 - Pioneer Women and their attributes

One of the ways that allegorical sculpture is typically identified is through the use of what are called "attributes." One of the masters of the use of attributes was J. Massey Rhind, a Scottish born American sculptor who created numerous monuments and left a trail of architectural sculpture across much of the United States. A quick look at his work at the Shelby County Court House in Memphis, Tennessee should suffice to illustrate how attributes work.

American sculpture comes into its own around 1850 and from that time onwards, until such time as the Pioneer Woman arrives on the scene, allegorical sculpture, as well as much of the other sculpture produced during the Neo-Classical era, utilized Greek and Roman dress as part of the standard formula. Chitons, robes and generic drapery were the norm.

Justice, arguably (or perhaps not) the most used allegorical figure is also the most easy to identify because her attributes have continued to be used. In Rhind's figure Justice is accompanied by a Sword (the power of the Law) while she holds what appears to be a bowl in each hand. These in fact (one of the words I use when expressing my opinion) make her into a scale, prepared to weigh the pros and cons, merits and demerits of what is presented to her for her judgement. The scales and sword are repeated in shallow relief on the side of her throne. She is blindfolded, because, "Justice is blind" and is crowned by a laurel wreath, making her a victor.

Prosperity holds an urn in one hand and a cornucopia in the other while Peace holds a lyre and a staff that has sprouted leaves in the other. The attributes used here and elsewhere were widely understood by architects and sculptors and a large portion of the general public, though the latter were the first to lose the thread.

When it was decided to celebrate the role of the Pioneer Woman in sculpture it was necessary to develop a whole new visual vocabulary for these works. We'll look at that next. But later.

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