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19th Century Bronze Statues of Demosthenes and Sophocles Undergo Conservation at the Bowdoin College Museum of Art
Tuesday, August 5, 2014 NEWS - Other

Two life-size bronze statues on the campus of Bowdoin College that have withstood the weather and elements of Maine for 120 years will be rejuvenated beginning this week.

Crafted by renowned Neapolitan bronze caster Sabatino de Angelis, the 19th century sculptures of the Ancient Greek playwright Sophocles and the Ancient Greek orator Demosthenes are original to the 1894 Beaux Arts Walker Art Building, home to the Bowdoin College Museum of Art (BCMA). Noted architect Charles Follen McKim of McKim, Mead & White, designed the building, which underwent a $20.8 million award-winning renovation and restoration in 2007.

The statues, commissioned by McKim for the façade of the Walker Art Building, occupy wall niches on either side of the building’s sweeping staircase where Bowdoin conducts commencement ceremonies for graduating seniors every spring and welcomes first-year students each fall. They will undergo onsite conservation and cleaning by a team from the Williamstown Art Conservation Center (WACC), of Williamstown, Mass., a nonprofit regional conservation facility devoted to the conservation and preservation of cultural and historical objects, of which the BCMA is a founding member.

The conservation of these works has benefitted from a five-year grant from the Lunder Foundation to the WACC to bolster the conservation budgets of the four Maine museums—including the Bowdoin College Museum of Art— that are members of the WACC consortium. The Lunder Foundation is a private foundation established in 1998 in Portland, Maine, by Peter and Paula Lunder. It supports educational, arts, and health care organizations.

“Summer is the season for improvements on the Bowdoin campus, and we are excited about the opportunity to work with conservators from the Williamstown Conservation Center to ensure a long life for these beloved sculptures,” said BCMA Co-Director Frank Goodyear.

Both bronze statues are 19th-century copies of ancient works.  Sophocles was modeled from a late fourth century BCE, Greek marble statue; and Demosthenes was modeled from a Vatican Collection marble copy of the original bronze, which was sculpted by Polyeuktos of Athens in 280 BCE. Other figures represented on the façade of the Walker Art Building include busts of Hermes, Dionysus, and Homer. At the time the Museum was established, the curriculum of Bowdoin College focused on the classics, so an educational as well as aesthetic motive is suggested by the selection of an orator and dramatist to decorate the Walker Art Building.

"We are delighted to have this opportunity to learn more about these works as we preserve them for future generations” said BCMA Co-Director Anne Goodyear. “We are grateful for the generosity of Peter and Paula Lunder that has helped make possible this project.”

Two object conservators from the WACC will conduct the conservation. The work is expected to take one to two weeks.