Provenance: Thomas Jefferson; by descent to Ellen and Joseph Coolidge; by descent to T. Jefferson Coolidge, Jr.; by loan to Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation 1928-1993; by gift to Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation in 1993
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 peice of modern Sculpture, a Cleopatra copied & reduced from the ancient one now at Paris, which for many years lay at the Palace of Belvidere at Rome, as I think it for the fineness of its marble & the neatness of its workmanship & finishing, among the best of the modern peices of Sculpture .... I was told it was purchased of a french Commissary in Italy, who wanted money; & that it had been taken from the apartments in the vatican.1
Jefferson replied: "[I]t shall be deposited [at Monticello] with the memorials of those worthies whose remembrance I feel a pride & comfort in consecrating there."2Ariadne 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