HIRAM POWERS (American 1805-1873)
    Proserpine, modeled 1844
    24 inches high (61 cm)
    Inscription on front of base: Hiram Power

    Richard P. Wunder, Hiram Powers Vermont Sculptor, 1805 -1873 (Newark, Delaware: University of Delaware Press, 1990), II:187-204

    Proserpin was Powers's most popular sculpture. He carved 147 busts of the goddess of flowers in five different versions. The first version was completed in 1843 and shows the figure emerging from an elaborate wicker basket filled with a corsage of spring flowers. The second, the present example, was modeled a year later and features the goddess emerging from a basket filled with acanthus leaves. In the other versions Powers substituted a simple fringe of beads around the base, omitted the molding altogether, and depicted only the goddess's head and neck. Proserpin was originally intended to be a companion piece for Powers's bust Ginerva, which was executed in 1838, shortly after the sculptor's arrival in Florence.

    In his description of this sculpture, Hiram Powers recounted the story of Proserpine (the Roman equivalent of Persephone) and explained his specific presentation of the goddess: "She was the daughter of Jupiter and Ceres and while gathering flowers when very young and exceedingly beautiful, was discovered by Pluto who seized her in his arms and bore her down through a neighboring lake to his own infernal dominions. Her mother sought her a long time in vain, but at last found out her fate and besought Jupiter to release her, which request was granted on condition that 'Proserpine' had eaten nothing while with Pluto. But unhappily she had eaten a pomegranate in his garden so a compromise was made, viz., she should come back to earth half the year and remain with her husband the other half. And so she appears in the bust with a wreath of wheat in bloom on her head and rising out of an acanthus (emblem of immortality) around her waist" (Richard P. Wunder, Hiram Powers: Vermont Sculptor, 1805-1873, University of Delaware Press, Newark, Delaware, 1990, II, p. 189).

    Proserpine is one of a number of heads of female mythological characters Powers sculpted. He also executed busts of Diana, Psyche and Clytie. Several of Powers's female sitters, including Martha Endicott Peabody of Salem, Massachusetts (1847 or 1848, Essex Institute), chose to be portrayed in the guise of Proserpine, a popular subject in Romantic and Victorian poetry. Percy Bysshe Shelley, Walter Savage Landor, Robert Browning, and Algernon Charles Swinburne all wrote verse about the goddess of Springtime. The American sculptor Joel Tanner Hart was greatly moved by Powers's sculpture and remarked: "I defy Antiquity to surpass - I doubt its ability to rival - Powers's Proserpine" (Cecilia Cleveland, The Story of a Summer or, Journal Leaves from Chappaqua, G.W. Carleton & Co., New York, 1874, p. 120).

    Condition Report*:

    Normal signs of wear as appropriate with age; surface dirt; some areas with vestiges of wax/powder; tiny marble defects, and some defects filled.

    *Heritage Auctions strives to provide as much information as possible but encourages in-person inspection by bidders. Statements regarding the condition of objects are only for general guidance and should not be relied upon as complete statements of fact, and do not constitute a representation, warranty or assumption of liability by Heritage. Please note that we do not de-frame lots estimated at $1,000 or less and may not be able to provide additional details for lots valued under $500. All lots are sold "AS IS" under the Terms & Conditions of Auction.

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    Auction Dates
    May, 2007
    25th Friday
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