Mr. Livingston, I presume?
“The statuary and painting at Montpelier exceeded anything my youthful imagination had ever conceived.”1 This account of Anne Mercer Slaughter’s 1825 visit to the Madisons is representative of the awe visitors recalled following their time in Orange. The Drawing Room, the epicenter of entertainment and culture at Montpelier, was populated with paintings and sculptures featuring some of the most noteworthy icons of the period as well as significant current and ancient figures.
John H. B. Latrobe recalled numerous busts of “distinguished men” in his description of the space.2 James Madison, whose life and career was heavily influenced by political contemporaries as well as classical figures, paid homage to these influences through his sculpture collection, and, as did his peers, placed such likenesses of his friends and mentors in conversation throughout his home.
With the assistance of expert sculpture consultant, Dr. Pamela Potter-Hennessey, Montpelier’s curatorial team has begun to recreate part of the Madison’s sculpture collection in the Drawing Room. Documentary evidence, including an undated list of statuary in John Payne Todd’s hand, guided the process.
In this otherwise sparse document, Todd included the busts of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Monroe, the Marquis de Lafayette, and Edward Livingston, a prominent promoter of the arts and a visitor to Montpelier. Unfortunately, little else is known about the list, particularly why (and when) it was written. As was common during the time period, Madison undoubtedly repositioned his sculptures in a variety of areas and groupings, thereby shifting the meaning and significance of the collection. This is demonstrated by John H. B. Latrobe’s account of the South Passage which, during his 1832 visit, contained “a collection of casts, chiefly busts, many of which are very good – as Joel Barlow, Paul Jones, Clay, Mr. Madison himself, and John Quincy Adams.”3
In addition to life size busts, visitors also noted classical reductions in the Drawing Room. Baron de Montlezun recalled that the Drawing Room “also contains…the busts of Homer and Socrates.”4 Sculptures of Homer were reproduced in a variety of sizes during the early nineteenth century and it is likely that the bust Madison owned was a reduction of a larger sculpture. What is still unclear to researchers is the specific composition of busts and reductions in the collection. With the exception of an 1816 letter from James Madison to Albert Gallatin in which he requests “Busts in plaster of Docr. Franklyn, Genl. Washington, Mr. Jefferson, Genl. Fayette, and Baron Humbold, or such of them as can be procured,” very few accounts specify any given sculpture’s material makeup.5
While reductions were often housed on a mantelpiece, tabletop, or over a doorway, pedestals were also required to properly showcase sculptural art. In 1817, Edward Caffarena wrote to Madison that he recently shipped “two Boxes to your address containing a Statue of Bonaparte, with a Pedestal.”6 Sculptor Pietro Cardelli alerted Madison in October 1819 that he “sent two Boxes by Steam-boat Containing three Busts, and the other three Pedastals for the Busts.”7
Montpelier’s curatorial team is pleased to unveil this slice of Madison’s sculptural legacy to the public. Life size busts of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, the Marquis de Lafayette, and Benjamin Franklin, all after Jean Antoine-Houdon, join James Madison after Pietro Cardelli, Edward Livingston by an unknown artist, and reductions of Pallas Athena and Homer all “in conversation” in the Drawing Room. And, don’t miss the highlight of Montpelier’s current sculpture collection in the Library: Madison’s original marble bust of George William Erving, American diplomat and longtime friend to the Madisons, on loan from Massachusetts Historical Society.
Eventual additions to the sculpture collection will include busts of Jefferson by Cardelli, John Paul Jones, John Quincy Adams, Napoleon Bonaparte, Henry Clay, Joel Barlow, Bishop John Carroll, Venus, Apollo, Socrates, and others known to have been owned by Madison including Sir Walter Scott and Lord Byron.
1. Jane C. Slaughter, “Anne Mercer Slaughter: A Sketch,” Tyler’s Quarterly Magazine (July 1937): 30-44.
2. John H. B. Latrobe to Charles Carroll Harper, August 3, 1832, box 4, John H. B. Latrobe Family Papers, MS 523, Maryland Historical Society, Baltimore, Maryland.
3. John H. B. Latrobe to Charles Carroll Harper, August 3, 1832, box 4, John H. B. Latrobe Family Papers, MS 523, Maryland Historical Society, Baltimore, Maryland.
4. Baron de Montlezun-Labarthette, “”A Frenchman visits Norfolk, Fredericksburg and Orange County, 1816, Part II: A Frenchman visits President Madison, 1816,” The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography (July 1945): 197-214.
5. James Madison to Albert Gallatin, May 8, 1816, Gallatin Papers, The New-York Historical Society, New York, New York.
6. Edward Caffarena to James Madison, July 12, 1817, James Madison Papers, Library of Congress, Washington, D. C.
7. Pietro Cardelli to James Madison, October 29, 1819, James Madison Papers, Library of Congress, Washington, D. C.
Benjamin Franklin, after Jean-Antoine Houdon.
Marquis de Lafayette, after Jean-Antoine Houdon.
John Payne Todd's "Untitled List of Statues and Prints," n.d., Papers of Dolley Madison, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.
George William Erving in Madison's Library. Courtesy of Massachusetts Historical Society.