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Artist/Maker: Unknown copyist after an ancient work
Created: c. 1800-1809
Dimensions: 68.5 x 95.3 x 34.3 (27 x 37½ x 13½ inches)
Location: Entrance Hall
Accession Number: 1928-4
Historical Notes: James Bowdoin III, who was appointed American minister to Spain by President Thomas Jefferson in 1804, came across this sculpture while visiting Paris where he saw an ancient sculpture of Ariadne, one of many Italian works of art confiscated by Napoleon that were exhibited at the Louvre. He wrote Jefferson:
Accident having thrown in my way a handsome piece of modern Sculpture, a Cleopatra copied and reduced from the ancient one now at Paris, which for many years lay at the Palace of Belvidere at Rome, as I think of it for the fineness of its marble and the neatness of its workmanship and finishing, among the best of the modern pieces of Sculpture...I was told it was purchased of a french commissary in Italy, who wanted money, and that it had been taken from the apartments in the vatican.1
Jefferson replied: "It shall be deposited [at Monticello] with the memorials of those worthies whose remembrance I feel a pride and comfort in consecrating there."2 Ariadne arrived at Monticello in 1805, but for ten years or so Jefferson thought, as Bowdoin did, that the female figure was Cleopatra. Jefferson initially described the reclining sculpture as "A Cleopatra in marble" in his Catalogue of Paintings. It wasn't until he turned to the appropriate page and illustration in his own copy of Augustine Legrand's Galeries des Antiques (1803), that he changed his mind and revised his description in the Catalogue, translating Legrand's comments into English. Jefferson also noted that the sculpture was placed in the Belvedere Gallery at the Vatican by Julius II, where it remained for three centuries.
After Jefferson's death, Ariadne was shipped to Boston for sale there, but Ellen Wayles Randolph Coolidge decided to hold on to it. She wrote her mother, "I kept back the Ariadne, because I thought it a pity to sacrifice [it] as the others were sacrificed."3
- Text from Stein, Worlds, 238.
- Reid, Jane Davidson, ed. The Oxford Guide to Classical Mythology in the Arts, 1300-1990s. New York: Oxford University Press, 1993.
- Thomas Jefferson Foundation, Inc. Monticello Explorer. "Ariadne." Entry for the Ariadne sculpture in Monticello's virtual tour.
- Trckova-Flamee, Alena. "Ariadne." In Encyclopedia Mythica. Article published March 3, 1997.
- 1. James Bowdoin to Jefferson, Boston, March 25, 1805. Thomas Jefferson Papers, Library of Congress. Recipient's copy available online.
- 2. Jefferson to Bowdoin, Washington, April 27, 1805. Thomas Jefferson Papers, Library of Congress. Polygraph copy available online.
- 3. Ellen Coolidge to Martha Jefferson Randolph, July 21, 1833, Jefferson-Coolidge Family Collection, University of Virginia. Transcription available online in the Family Letters Digital Archive.