02.03.19: Statue and stairs

Diana, a statue created by sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens in 1893,
stands atop the stairs in the Philadelphia Museum of Art's Great Stair Hall.

PHOTO OF THE WEEK ARCHIVES

Technical information

Date/time:
Sept. 2, 2017,
2:20 p.m.

Location
39°57'56" N
75°10'54" W
(Show in Google Maps)

Camera: 
Canon EOS 7D Mark II

Lens: 
Canon EF-S 10-22 f/3.5-4.5 (16mm) 

Aperture: 
f/4.5

Shutter: 
1/50th second

ISO: 
6400

Photographing inside a museum is a bit tricky.

Some museums prohibit photography. Some permit photography except in specific exhibits. And some allow photography anyplace, as long as a flash isn’t used.

I’m not enthused by photographing someone else’s works of art. When I’m in a museum with my camera I’m looking for scenes where the artwork, the surroundings and the visitors combine to form an interesting scene.

I found such a scene in the Philadelphia Museum of Art as we were wrapping up a visit in 2017.

I was on a walkway overlooking the museum’s Great Stair Hall, putting me at eye level with the statue of Diana which stands atop the stairs. I had several choices for composing the scene: use a long lens to get a closer shot of Diana, or use a wider lens to capture the entire area.

I went with the latter, because I thought the stairs and columns surrounding — and framing — the backlit statue created a more eye-catching scene than just showing the statue itself. And I thought using the photo in black-and-white would give it a timeless look, something that could have been captured in 1800s Italy or Greece, not 2017 Philadelphia.

I like how the lines of the stairs and the bright light behind the statue pull the viewer’s eye to Diana.

The statue has an interesting history. Unlike many other statues in the museum, this one doesn’t originate from ancient Rome or Athens. Instead, it dates to late 1800s New York City. And this is the second version, created in 1893 by Augustus Saint-Gaudens, the sculptor who also created the original version two years earlier.

The statue of Diana, which is also known as Diana of the Tower, was commissioned in the 1880s as a weather vane for the tower of Madison Square Garden, a theater/dining complex at 26th Street and Madison Avenue in New York City (not to be confused with the current Madison Square Garden, which is an arena located between 7th and 8th Avenues from 31st to 33rd Streets).

The original statue was unveiled on Sept. 29, 1891. The billowing scarf on the original weather-vane statue was supposed to catch the wind, but the statue wouldn’t rotate because of its weight. The nudity also offended the city’s moral crusaders.

Shortly after installation, the architect and sculptor concluded that the 18-foot-tall Diana was too large for the building. A decision was made to create a smaller version to replace it.

After less than a year atop Madison Square Garden, the original Diana came down and was shipped to Chicago for exhibit at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition. In June 1894, less than eight months after the exposition closed, a fire tore through the site. The lower half of the Diana statue was destroyed. The upper half survived, but was later lost.

The second version shown in my photo was redesigned by Saint-Guadens and scaled down to 14 and a half feet. It weighed 700 pounds, a little more than half the weight of the original, and was light enough to rotate with the wind when it was installed in November 1893. Electric lights illuminated Diana at night, making it the first statue in history to be lit by electricity.

The original Madison Square Garden was demolished in 1925. Diana was removed and stored with the intention for the statue to remain in New York City. A seven-year search didn’t find a suitable site for display, so the statue was presented to the Philadelphia Museum of Art as a gift.

After more than 80 years on display in Philadelphia, the statue — which had much of its gilded exterior gone from years of exposure atop Madison Square Garden — was cleaned and regarded with 180 square feet of gold leaf. The restored statue was unveiled in July 2014.

Each week I will post a photo from my collection with an explanation of how I got the shot. Previous photos of the week are in the archives.