: Dante vivo || White Silence






IV. William Wetmore Story

'The Significance of Florence in the Life of William Wetmore Story and his Family'. Kathleen Lawrence, George Washington University
'A Storied Life: Marble Fauns, Angels, and Cemeteries: William Wetmore Story and Friends in Italy'. Elise Madeleine Ciregna, University of Delaware/ Forest Hills Cemetery

Kathleen Lawrence of George Washington University speaks on Florence and William Wetmore Story's family.

'The Significance of Florence in the Life of William Wetmore Story and his Family'
Kathleen Lawrence, George Washington University. Abstract.

Scholars usually associate nineteenth-century American expatriate sculptor and litterateur William Wetmore Story with Rome where he lived with wife Emelyn, daughter Edith, and sons Waldo and Julian in the Palazzo Barberini from 1856 until his death in 1895, and where he maintained an active studio at 9, Via San Martino. What is less well-known is that Story and his family developed an intimate tie to Florence, first through their close friendship with Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning, but later even more significantly through daughter Edith Story’s marriage to Florentine Simone Peruzzi in 1875 and sons Waldo and Julian’s art life in the Florentine circle of painter Frank Duveneck in the 1880’s. Recently discovered unpublished documents and rare photographs in the possession of Story descendants reveal the frequency of the Story visits to Florence and to the Peruzzi family summer villas “Il Lago” in Vallombrosa and “I Busani” in Rufina, in the hills of Florence.

Rare photographs also establish the influence of Florentine Renaissance masters Desiderio da Settignano, Antonio Rossellino, and Mino da Fiesole on the sculpture of Waldo Story, an inspiration no doubt imbibed during son Waldo’s many visits to Florence. Last but not least, son Julian established his painter’s studio in his own villa “Torre di Campiglioni” in Pelago where he lived and entertained international nobility with first wife and famous opera singer Emma Eames and later with second wife Philadelphia socialite Elaine Sartori from the 1890’s until his death in 1917.

With Edith’s marriage to Simone Peruzzi, the Storys formed a bond not only to Florence and the ancient Peruzzi family but also to the Medici, whose title “de Medici” was conferred on the Peruzzis by King Umberto and Queen Margherita in recognition of Simone’s service to the King. Edith’s serene Medici villas in Vallombrosa, Antella, and Rufino drew the family northward every summer to join her, Simone, and sons Bindo, named for a Renaissance Peruzzi ancestor, Ridolfo, named for another ancestor, and daughter Maria Cressida. William Wetmore Story’s enchantment with Vallombrosa culminated in his little volume on the beloved spot where he died in Edith’s arms in 1895. What is not known is that Edith’s son Bindo, the glamorous godson of King Umberto, died tragically by suicide after a lengthy court marshal trial where it was alleged that he had had an affair with another young soldier in the King’s army. His funeral on April 4, 1907 was attended by the nobility of Florence, including Counts Rucellai and Corsini and Marquises Zaccaria  and Antinori. Bindo was buried in the Peruzzi/Medici chapel at Rufina. During Bindo’s scandal, only the loyal Pen Browning stood by Edith and continued to visit the family palazzo at 28, Via Maggio. Pen bought Edith’s other villa at Antella in 1901 to rescue her financially to be near her.

Meanwhile, young sculptor Waldo Story developed his own significant relationship to Florence whose renaissance masters became his main influences as he sought to break away from his father’s neoclassicism. Masters Desiderio da Settignano, Antonio Rossellino, and Mino da Fiesole inspired Waldo with their delicacy and refinement and introduced him to the genre of the portrait bas relief, which he began to use for portraits of wealthy society figures in England and America. In addition, Waldo re-invented Desiderio’s tabernacle wall installations to celebrate the lives of distinguished English war heroes in his Portal Monument in Winchester Cathedral. Perhaps most important, Waldo used Medici iconography on his last commission, the exquisite bronze doors of J. P. Morgan’s library in Manhattan, linking Morgan to the great banking families of Florence, and his own style to that of the great Ghiberti.

Julian Story’s life narrative also moved to Florence after his education at Eton and Brasenose College, Oxford, where he used the quiet and beauty of Florence and Vallombrosa first as a training ground with Duveneck and his bride Lizzie Boott and later as a studio and place of inspiration and socialization. Thus in the second generation of the Story family, the saga centers not so much on Rome but on Florence whose beauty and historical significance changed forever the lives of this important American expatriate family and the course of American art.


Florence in the Lives of William Wetmore Story and his Family
Kathleen Lawrence, George Washington University

The name of nineteenth-century American expatriate neoclassical sculptor William Wetmore Story has traditionally been more closely associated with Rome than with Florence. It was in Rome that Story lived and worked after his decision to leave Boston for good in 1856 until his death in 1895. It was in Rome that he established with his wife Emelyn their legendary Sunday evening salon in the sumptuous 50-room rented apartment at the top left of Palazzo Barberini. It was in Rome that this salon served as the gathering place for both permanent expatriate residents of Italy such as Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Harriet Hosmer, Vernon Lee, John Singer Sargent, Francis Boott, and Francis Marion Crawford, as well as important visitors and Grand Tourists such as Matthew Arnold, Alfred, Lord Tennyson, Mrs. Gaskell, Oscar Wilde, James McNeill Whistler, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Mrs. Humphrey Ward, Fanny Kemble, and Henry James, among many others.

Henry James

Marking the beginning of a life-long relationship with the Storys, Henry James wrote home in 1870, “I have now (proud privilege) the entrée of three weekly receptions—the Terrys, Storys, and Mrs. Wister’s.” James’s bond with the Storys proved to be a tangled web of association filled, on their side, with trust and friendship, and on his with complex emotions including jealousy, loathing, and guilt, climaxing in his two-volume biography William Wetmore Story and His Friends (1903) that, while commissioned by the family as a tribute, ultimately treated Story with artistic condescension and moral condemnation. James revealed what was to be a life-long tone of suspicion and critique of the Storys’ Roman life in another early letter to his mother in 1870:

Mrs. Story is fair, fat, and fifty, her daughter chatty and an agreeable partner and very handsome withal and Mr. Story friendly, humorous and clever. An apartment in a Roman palace is a very fine affair, and it certainly adds a picturesqueness to life to be led through a chain of dimly lighted chambers, besprinkled with waiting servants, before you emerge sonorously announced, into the light and elegance of a reception-room with a roof, not a ceiling.

Palazzo Barbarini

James’ sense of the inappropriateness of this grandeur for Americans as well as his dictum that art required renunciation only deepened with time, culminating in the censorious tone of William Wetmore Story and His Friends, a subtle deprecation that ultimately had devastating consequences for the Storys’ stature and place in the art historical canon. William and sons Waldo and Julian, sculptor and painter respectively, fell out of the canon until American art historians rehabilitated the elder Story in the 1960’s and 1970’s; Waldo Story has yet to be resuscitated, and, in fact, this talk and my forthcoming article for the journal Sculpture (March 2009) serve as the beginning of the effort, to be followed soon by a monograph. But while James chronicled what he thought to be the deleterious effect of Rome on the Storys, nevertheless it was in Rome that Story played a role in the civic lives of the Anglo-American expatriates, serving not only as reigning host but also as legal counsel and activist whenever art intersected with politics, in both small matters of internecine battles among artists and larger matters of taxation of artistic works bound for the United States. Finally, it was in Rome’s Protestant cemetery in 1894 that Story installed his last and perhaps greatest sculpture, the “Angel of Grief,” as a memorial to his deceased wife Emelyn a year and a half before his own death. Suspending for once his critical venom, James wrote the following to Francis Boott about the “Angel of Grief:”

I read over your letter for the twentieth time, and light upon a mention of Story’s monument to his wife which I saw not in the Cosmopolitan, but, the last time I was at the Barberini, in the divine immortal marble. Seriously speaking, it struck me as the most genuine and graceful of his endless effigies, showing, perhaps, that emotion had for once taken the place of the other thing—I leave you to say what—that he never had.

This letter, while dated 1897, refers to James’s 1895 Roman sojourn, just after the death of Emelyn Story. After dutifully calling on the Storys, (William, now bereft of his wife, was not alone in the Barberini but living with son Waldo and daughter-in-law Maud Broadwood), James wrote to Boott that Story was “just the shadow of his old clownship” and the Barberini looked horribly “shabby.” James would have seen the “Angel of Grief” with its graceful neo-Florentine wings at Story’s studio rather than the Barberini, but curiously conflates the two here, using the “Barberini” to apply metonymically to the Storys’ entire Roman sphere. James’s reference to Story’s domain foreshadows language in the 1903 biography where he condemns Story for a life of “great extremes of ease” lived amidst the “golden air” of Rome. In describing the “Angel of Grief,” James, eliminating the precise word for “the other thing…that he never had,” leaves Boott to supply his own word, perhaps “talent,” “beauty,” or “genius,” a technique James used in his fiction to heighten ominous implications, seen, for example, in The Turn of the Screw where the reader never learns exactly what evil the ghosts perpetrate on the children. This method of indefinite suggestion in novel and letter bespoke not James’s delicacy or discretion but rather a way to enhance drama and suggest the worst by sparking the imagination.

 Conceding its genius, James saw the “Angel of Grief” in pristine condition at Story’s studio before its installation in the cemetery. What James did not fully appreciate was the Florentine influence on this masterwork, an example of neo-Florentine refinement that late in the elder Story’s career infiltrated his strict neo-classicism. Amazingly, the angel’s face is fully bowed in grief, yet it is fully carved; to this day, no one knows how Story achieved that feat of sculpting. The angel’s sweeping wings find their real source in the work of quattrocento Florentine master Desiderio da Settignano whose feathery wings adorn the angels and sarcophagus of his memorial monument to Carlo Marsuppini (1464) in Santa Croce, giving it richness and elegance.

Desiderio da Settignano, wings on tomb of Cardinal Marsuppini, Santa Croce

Son Waldo adopted these luxurious Florentine wings cascading with a sense of languorous grace for his first great work, the exquisite “Fallen Angel” (1887) that I believe inspired his father’s last great work, the son’s aestheticism softening the father’s neoclassicism and embodying the elder Story’s final abandonment to his emotion, his deep love and devotion to Emelyn.

The wings in the work of Waldo Story and William Wetmore Story are the emblem of the influence and significance of Florence in the lives of Story and his three children—his daughter Edith and sons Waldo and Julian. It was in Florence that Story’s son Waldo found the inspiration for his own sculpture from quattrocento Florentine masters Mino da Fiesole, Antonio Rosellino, and Desiderio.

It was in Florence, specifically in the countryside of Vallombrosa, that Julian Story built his house and studio where he lived and painted his grand canvases with his first wife opera diva Emma Eames and later with second wife Elaine Sartori Story. It was in Florence that Story’s daughter Edith lived after her marriage to Florentine nobleman Simone Peruzzi, where she raised her four children Margherita, Bindo, Ridolfo, and Mira Cressida. With Edith Story as his side, Simone Peruzzi served King Umberto and Queen Margherita as chamberlain, participating in grand court life in Rome on the Quirinal and in Florence at the Pitti Palace when the court traveled northward. As a courtier close to the Queen, Edith was bedecked with jewels and finery, this American girl of Puritan roots at the epicenter of European majesty. To show his gratitude for service loyally rendered, King Umberto bestowed upon Edith and her husband the title “dei Medici” in 1897, acknowledging the ancient Peruzzi family connection to the noblest of Florentine dynasties, solidified in the 18th century when an earlier Bindo Peruzzi married Anna Maria de Medici.

Thus it is Florence more than Rome that is responsible for the strong cultural influences and ultimate contributions of the second generation of Storys abroad, a generation whose “story” needs to be told. The almost complete disappearance of these three siblings from the historical and art historical record is mysterious, and tied to their strange and sad fate, and to Henry James’ illicit denigration in his William Wetmore Story and His Friends, a condemnation whose repercussions reverberate to this day. I explore this saga of James and the Storys more fully in my article for Ateneo Veneto, anno CXCIV terza serie, 6/11 (2007).  Reacting to King Umberto’s act of bestowing the title “dei Medici” on the Peruzzis, James’s wrote to old Florentine friend Francis Boott, “I got, three days since, a note from Edith of that house which brought home to me the splendour of the recent (though you haven’t heard of it, and won’t care if you have) Peruzzi change of name. They ‘have revived at the particular request of the King an old dropped marquisate of the family’ and are now (che vi ne pare?) Marchesi Peruzzi dei Medici. What a pity Mrs. Story sleeps with her mothers!” Again, James’ sarcasm in this letter epitomizes his attitude towards the Storys that amounts to an illicit war against them, a war that he won by slanting the narrative, further proof of the power of discourse in shaping truth.

The Story family’s original ties to Florence date to William, Emelyn, son Joseph and daughter Edith’s first sojourn in Italy in 1849, before the birth of Waldo or Julian, when they traveled north from Rome and first met the Brownings happily ensconced in Casa Guidi. With the exception of poet, satirist, and diplomat James Russell Lowell, Robert Browning was William Wetmore Story’s single closest and most important friend for forty years, influencing his poetry and also the subject-matter of his sculpture, for example Story’s “Saul” (1881) that echoes Browning’s poem “Saul” (1855). Browning helped Story to integrate into the artistic and literary world of Europe, enabling him to gain admission to London’s prestigious Athenaeum Club under Rule II, (meaning that he was voted in by a select committee and not subject to a full vote of the membership), overseeing publication in England of Story’s prose work Roba di Roma (1862) and Browning-esque dramatic monologues Graffiti d’Italia (1875), and most important, encouraging Story during his uncertain apprenticeship period as a sculptor before his first success as the Papal supported entry to the London International Exhibition of 1862. As Browning wrote to Mrs. Story from London after the success of Story’s “Cleopatra” and “Libyan Sybil,” “Anyhow, I rejoice heartily in the sale of the statues—a good comfortable fact, freeing you from any back-thoughts and bother. William has a clear way before him & may do what he pleases.” Story considered settling permanently in Florence, writing to Lowell from Paris in 1855, “We think of returning to Florence to establish ourselves—but are not yet determined.” The Storys balked at returning to Rome with the traumatic memory of their first-born son Joseph dying there from scarlet fever in 1853, but ultimately Rome’s larger expatriate community and proximity to antique sculptural prototypes drew them back. Then too, with “Jo-Jo” buried in the Protestant Cemetery, Emelyn and William “hated to leave him.” Story’s precursors, American expatriate neoclassical sculptors Horatio Greenough and Hiram Powers, had found Florence the most amenable place to work, especially given its proximity to the marble quarries of Carrara and Serravezza, its affordability, and congenial expatriate life. Greenough, as has been documented by Douglas Hyland in his dissertation on the subject, was also attracted to the more expressive neoclassicism of Florentine Lorenzo Bartolini (1770-1850) whose style dominated during his tenure at head of Florence’s Academy. Other important Story family friends from Florence included English poet Walter Savage Landor, who grew quite close to the Storys when they gave him asylum in Siena in the summer of 1857 after his acrimonious break with his wife and children. Landor developed in particular a fondness for the young Edith Story for whom he wrote an unpublished epic poem on Princess Belgiojoso in 1857 that begins “To the Princess Belgioioso: What goddess in the middle of my path/Stops me and bids me follow? Now I see/That step majestic, and those eyes that oft/Have made the boldest drop and fear to gaze./Offspring of the Trivulzi!...” Edith would later publish retrospective articles on Landor for Century Magazine.

Thus Edith Story was not a stranger to Florence in 1874 when she came north to attend a Florentine ball at the age of thirty and met Simone Peruzzi who was almost fifty. It was in Florence that Edith established her residence and became a writer and translator after her marriage to Peruzzi in 1875, and where she raised her own four children, Margherita, no doubt named for the queen, Bindo, Ridolfo, and Mira Cressida, named to commemorate a Peruzzi victory in the Battle of Cressida. Henry James saw Edith Story in Florence in 1874 with her hostess the Princess Corsini and wrote to his mother, “Edith Story has just refused Peruzzi, aid de camp of the King and nephew of the Sindaco here, but nearly fifty and penniless.” Yet Edith Story did consent to marry Simone Peruzzi in 1875, moved to Florence, and became part of a social circle that included the families of Corsini, Ricasoli-Firidolfi, Rucellai, Annaratone, Guicciardini, Zaccaria, Antinori, and many others. Edith Story became a translator and author, translating the Autobiography of Sienese born but Florentine trained Giovanni Dupre in 1886, an important subject for her, as Dupre’s sentimental Romantic-neoclassicism no doubt influenced her father just as the form of his Ferrari monument in San Lorenzo no doubt drew her brother Waldo towards the idea of the tabernacle memorial employed earlier by Desiderio. Dupre had sculpted not only this Ferrari monument and the monument to Cavour in Milan, but also the large bas-relief of the Triumph of the Cross on the façade of Santa Croce here in Florence, the portrait statue of Giotto in a niche of the Uffizi, his Cain and Abel, but also his bust of Baldassere Peruzzi in the Palazzo Pubblica at Siena, a Peruzzi ancestor whose status as Renaissance painter and architect linked the Peruzzis to the Storys through the commonality not only of ancestry but also of art.

While Edith translated and wrote occasional nostalgic magazine articles and tales of the Italian countryside, she died before realizing her projected work on her father that was to be the counterweight to Henry James’s two-volume William Wetmore Story and His Friends. As her father’s daughter, Edith divined the embedded and profoundly negative portrait of Story in James’s book, although it was obscured by James’s circuitous late style. What Edith could not have guessed was that the moral and aesthetic condemnation succeeded after Edith’s death in 1917, lasting well into the later twentieth-century in carrying out James’s nefarious intention—to bury Story and to ruin him. James used multiple avenues to undermine Story, not only what he wrote in his biography, for example, that Story “was not in the end a sculptor,” that he “paid” for his life of ease in the golden air of Rome, and that he abandoned a precious New England heritage, but James also undertook a whisper campaign by letter and no doubt in person to their mutual circle. The implications of James’s negative assessment amounted to a character assassination that continues slowly to be reversed. Beginning in the 1970’s, Jonathan Fairbanks of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and William Gerdts of the City University of New York began to reassess Story’s work and reevaluate it in terms of its cultural and artistic context, rescuing Story’s sculptures from the basements and storage vaults of American museums as well as the auction blocks of Sotheby’s and Christie’s. As stated before, this talk is another small but, I hope, significant landmark in the reclamation of the Storys as you will hear about his son Waldo who disappeared from the canon but whose lustrous and inventive sculptures I continue to identify in the United States, Great Britain, and Continental Europe in preparation for my monograph.

At the center of the untold “story” of the Storys is the tragedy of Bindo, Edith’s first-born son and heir not only to the Peruzzi name but also the Medici title. Edith and Simone chose the name “Bindo” for its associations with the ancient Peruzzis, but Bindo was, in essence, the last great Medici. Bindo, born in 1877, was destined to become an elegant social lion, dashing horseman, godson to King Umberto, and captain in the Italian cavalry. Tragically, in 1903 Bindo became embroiled in a scandal after a jealous high-born lady rejected by Bindo found his love letters to another soldier and produced them to his commanding officer, leading to a trial for homosexuality and his eventual resignation from the army. The aftermath of disgrace was worse as Bindo was ostracized by society and even by his own family. Returning from Rome to Florence, Bindo was relegated to the ground floor of palazzo Peruzzi on via Maggio, 28. Once the center of aristocratic society, Bindo was now a pariah, and even shunned by his aunt, Julian’s wife the opera diva Emma Eames who used to welcome Bindo to her performances and would sing for him in Vallombrosa where Julian’s house bordered Edith’s. In April of 1907 the elegant Bindo took his own life, shooting himself in the heart in the ground-floor rooms at number 28, Via Maggio with last rites at Santa Felicita and burial in the family chapel at I Busini in Rufina.

Henry James and others refer obliquely in letters to this great scandal, but James scholars have not known exactly what happened to Bindo, for Victorians were discreet and saved details of gossip for intimate fireside colloquy. Given the nature of the scandal in the years following Oscar Wilde’s disastrous trial for indecency in 1895, Bindo was erased from the annals of history. I happened one day at last to find out the truth about Bindo when, after years of scouring archives across the globe, I simply “Googled” “Bindo,” getting a reference to an article by Natalia Wright from the 1940’s in which the name “Bindo” appeared in a footnote, the footnote directing readers to Mabel Dodge Luhan’s memoir European Experiences (1935). Luhan, it turns out, as a young bride living in Florence befriended Bindo in his ignominy, as her status as an American freed her from strictures of Florentine societal rules. Luhan heard from Bindo his tragic tale and became his confidante, discovering as well his and his mother’s spendthrift habits that led Luhan to give her pearls to Bindo to be sold to pay his debts. Luhan claims in her memoir, although this may be a narcissistic version of the truth, that it was after her jealous husband refused to allow her to associate with Bindo that he shot himself. What is less well-known about the Storys and Florence is that Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s son Pen Browning would become Edith Story’s longest and closest friends, standing by her during Bindo’s downfall. During this tragic time, Pen continued to visit Edith and Bindo at the Peruzzi residence at No. 28 via Maggio, furtively entering Bindo’s downstairs rooms when all other friends deserted them and refused to communicate with or be seen with Bindo. The final tragedy of the Peruzzis was Edith’s estrangement from her other son Ridolfo, later first world war hero, who deplored his mother’s spendthrift habits, expelling her from the family quarters and forcing her move to the Via del Giglio between the train station and San Lorenzo. Unpublished letters from Edith to her father reveal the financial strain that this court life placed on her, requiring servants, jewels, and lavish entertaining. Her father partly supported her with yearly endowments running into the thousands of Francs and Lire. This monetary burden was exacerbated by the requisite summer retreats at Vallombrosa and Antella, where she maintained extensive estates. Henry James somewhat expiated his guilt over the Story biography and decried this final tragedy, writing to Story daughter-in-law Maud Broadwood, "I am distressed to hear of the relations between Ridolfo and his Mother. What tragedies upon tragedies, and what a dark vision of poor Edith alone and embittered and uncomforted in her dark, black, corner of Florence today—with only the ghosts of the Medici to console her!”

Maud Broadwood

The Storys’ other important connection to Florence was aesthetic rather than genealogical and geographical and came through Waldo Story, sculptor son of William who imbibed the influence of quattrocento Florentine masters. As related above, Waldo Story has been almost completely erased by time and fortune, a serious lacuna in the canon of late nineteenth-century Anglo-American artists. A combination of factors led to Waldo’s exclusion, beginning with modernist bias against Gilded Age aestheticism at the turn of the last century, aggravated by reverberations from James’s book on his father, and last but not least exacerbated by the scandal surrounding Waldo’s running off with opera singer Bessie Abbot, eroding his position in Victorian society, artistically and financially. Waldo paid dearly for his belated reaction to the exacting rigors of his studio workshop and adoption of the moral double-standard of international society.

Bessie Abbot  as 'Queen of the Night' and as 'Margaret'

As a young sculptor, Waldo Story sought an artistic path separate from his father’s Romantic-neoclassicism, developing a style imbibed from lifelong exposure to art in Florence. It was in Florence that Waldo discovered Renaissance masters Donatello, Rossellino, Mina da Fiesole, and Desiderio da Settignano, artists whose influence led him toward a delicate quattrocento aestheticism seen in his portrait bas-reliefs with their Donatello-esque schiacciato, meaning extremely low relief, as well as his portrait busts and life-size statues balancing naturalism with graceful refinement.

Mino da Fiesole, St Helena Empress

Waldo Story, Portrait Relief

Waldo Story’s memorials especially looked to Florentine models for their form and content. His Portal Monument (1897) in Winchester Cathedral, Crawshay Memorial (1903) in Merthyr Tydfil, Wales, and Belmont memorial (1903) in Newport, Rhode Island all looked to Florentine examples, in particular to the concept of the tabernacle or wall memorial seen in Santa Croce’s Tomb of Cardinal Marsuppini by Desiderio and Tomb of Leonardo Bruni by Antonio Rossellino.

In addition to his plethora of commissioned busts, bas reliefs, and statues, Waldo Story created magnificent fountains for elite English aristocrats across Britain as well as American magnates. In his work on fountains, Waldo departed from the quiet elegance of quattrocento models and looked for inspiration to later Renaissance and Baroque statuary and fountains in the gardens that ring Florence, including Villa Castello, Villa Petraia, and Villa Medici Pratolini, now Parco di Demidoff, and most importantly the Boboli Gardens. Waldo Story’s colossal and playful “Triumph of Galatea” (1890) for the Rothschilds at Ascott House, his “Elixir of Love” (1894) for the Astors at Cliveden, and his “Mermaid Fountain” (1899) at Blenheim are based on Italian and Florentine prototypes that employ mythological tritons, mermaids, dolphins, and sea-horses. Steeped in the Florentine celebration of nature and myth, Story brought Italy home for English and American upper-class Grand tourists who yearned to fuse Italian beauty with their local flora and fauna. For example, William Waldorf, First Viscount Astor was a great Italophile who had spent formative years in Rome studying sculpture under Waldo Story’s father and had later returned to the Eternal City as Ambassador in the 1880’s. Employing Waldo Story to transform the gardens at Cliveden, Astor ordered the monumental “Elixir of Love” to be the focal point of the main approach to his grand house, as well as the smaller “Turtle” fountain to add charm to his lower terraced grounds, along with benches, balustrades, gates, and urns. Story’s studio operated like the classic Florentine renaissance workshop to supply decorative stonework and bronze in all forms and genres, blurring the lines between high art and low in filling the needs of the client, the modern marquese or count.

Waldo’s great sin was to escape the exacting demands of his huge studio in Rome and his position of de facto head of the Anglo-American expatriate community in Rome by running off to America with opera diva Bessie Abott, whom he had met soon after 1900 on one of his transatlantic crossings. The strain of Waldo’s great success providing sculptural works to the highest elites in England, America, and the Continent had led to a decrease in his health around 1899, a situation that alarmed even Henry James, who wrote to their mutual friends the Curtises in Venice that “Waldo needs imperatively six or seven months complete rest, which he will not get, thanks to his vast marble workshop.”

Waldo with his father and the studio assitants

James’s life was intricately bound up with the Storys and theirs with his, as they shared so many of the same friends, other Americans in Italy such as Daniel and Ariana Curtis in Venice at the Palazzo Barbero, Katharine Bronson at Casa Alvisi, Francis Boott here in Florence at Villa Castellani, the Huntington/Wagnieres, Thomas Crawford’s widow Louisa Ward and her son the writer Francis Marion Crawford, and English expatriates such as Fanny Kemble’s sister Adelaide Sartoris and her daughter Sarah Butler Wister, Matthew Arnold’s niece Mrs. Humphrey Ward, and doctor, architect, and writer Axel Munthe. James appeared to the Story siblings to be the perfect person to enshrine their father’s memory for posterity. But they let a fox into the fold. James attempted to refuse, but the Storys persisted, in particular Maud Broadwood Story, who was close to her father-in-law William Wetmore Story and wanted not only a great author, but also someone who had known the family since his second sojourn in Italy in 1872. James demurred—he tried to extricate himself, but if he was going to do the Story biography, then he could only do it his way. The subject was too intricately tied to his own deepest moral and artistic beliefs and choices, his idea that art required renunciation, his sense that Rome was a place of decadence, and, finally, his belief in the significance of the written word as a calling for Americans, and especially New Englanders, rather than marble “effigies.”

I hope that my talk has contributed to a reversal in the fortunes of the Storys, to a greater appreciation of Edith and Bindo, the recovery of Waldo from historical erasure, and, in particular, to an understanding of the significance of Florence in the life of William Wetmore Story and his children.

Elise Madeleine Ciregna, of the University of Delaware and Curator of Forest Hills Cemetery, again speaks on William Wetmore

A Storied Life: Marble Fauns, Angels, and Cemeteries: William Wetmore Story and Friends in Italy
Elise Madeleine Ciregna, of the University of Delaware and Curator of Forest Hills Cemetery

The development of American sculpture in the nineteenth century owed a great debt to Italy and that country’s rich artistic heritage.  Horatio Greenough, often called “America’s first sculptor” since he was the first American to pursue sculpture exclusively as his career, settled in Florence in the 1830s, to train with Lorenzo Bartolini of the Accademia di Belle Arti, and where Greenough would spend most of the rest of his life.  In Florence Greenough became part of the artistic and literary circles that included Samuel F.B. Morse and Thomas Cole.  Aspiring American sculptors for the next two generations would follow Greenough’s example, leaving their native country to train and work in Italy, and to become members of the expatriate artistic community.

One of the greatest lights of that community was the sculptor William Wetmore Story.  The son of eminent American jurist Joseph Story, William Wetmore Story dutifully, if reluctantly, followed in his father’s footsteps and became a lawyer.  But his father’s sudden death in 1845 gave the younger Story an opportunity to follow his artistic leanings.  Responding to Mount Auburn Cemetery’s (Cambridge, Massachusetts) search for a sculptor capable of producing a worthy monument to Joseph Story, William Wetmore Story, without any professional experience but with all the right social connections, gained the prestigious commission.  Incredibly, recognizing that the aspiring young sculptor would have to actually first learn his craft, the Mount Auburn Committee agreed that Story would close his law practice, move to Italy, and train and work for nearly ten years before expecting a finished product.  The Committee was pleased with the statue, delivered in 1854.  Thus the career of one of America’s greatest nineteenth century sculptors and one of its most famous expatriates was launched.[1]

Story’s life and career, once based in Italy, did, indeed, become the stuff of fiction.  Story’s close friend Nathaniel Hawthorne—a writer who was enamored of Italy and an admirer of stonecutters and sculptors—immortalized Story as the character of Kenyon, the sculptor, in his novel “The Marble Faun.”  Story became one of the nineteenth century’s most prolific and successful American sculptors.  He lived in the Palazzo Barberini in Rome, which was a vibrant center of artistic and intellectual exchange with the many other artists and writers Story knew, among them Elizabeth and Robert Browning, Thomas Crawford, Randolph Rogers, and James Russell Lowell.  Many of Story’s most celebrated works were inspired by classical mythology and by figures of the “Antique” world, for example his celebrated statues of Cleopatra and Sappho, regarded as models not only of exquisite workmanship, but as examples of an admirable archaeological attention to authentic detail.

As Story’s first professional sculpture was a tribute to a close family member and destined for placement in a cemetery, it seems fitting that his final major work was also an important cemetery sculpture: The Angel of Grief, created in 1893 for his wife Emelyn’s gravesite in the Protestant Cemetery in Rome, and under which Story himself was laid to rest in 1895.  The Angel of Grief has proven to be an enduring and resonant work; at least seven copies of it exist in cemeteries across America and elsewhere. 

Henry James, an acquaintance of Story’s, would later write a “biography” of William Wetmore Story and his friends.  James found Story’s celebrated friends more compelling than Story himself, but in recent years Story has been the subject of critical reevaluation, most notably in the work of art historian Jan Seidler’s as yet unpublished dissertation.[2]

This paper looks at the career of William Wetmore Story and his life in Italy, inextricably linked to the romance of white marble and cemeteries, Italy’s tradition of sculpture and history, and to the artistic and literary expatriates Story counted as friends.  William Wetmore Story, regarded as one of nineteenth century America’s greatest sculptors and yet largely ignored after his death, will be restored to his important position within the context of nineteenth century Italy and the artistic community.

[1] Elise Madeleine Ciregna, “Museum in the Garden:  Mount Auburn Cemetery and the Development of American Sculpture, 1825-1875.”  Master’s Thesis, Harvard University, 2002.  Chapter 7 is a critical look at William Wetmore Story.  

[2] Jan M. Seidler, “A Critical Reappraisal of the Career of William Wetmore Story (1819-1895), American Sculptor and Man of Letters.”  Dissertation, Boston University, 1985.

Go to Introduction
         I. Abolitionists in the 'English' Cemetery
         II. Hiram Powers, Kate Field, Amasa Hewins
         III. Joel Tanner Hart
         IV. William Wetmore Story
         V. Collectors and Visitors

With the Sponsorship of the Comune di Firenze, the United States Consulate General in Florence, Syracuse University in Florence, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, the Lyceum Club of Florence, the Chiesa Evangelica Riformata Svizzera of Florence, and the Aureo Anello Associazione Mediatheca 'Fioretta Mazzei' e Amici del Cimitero 'degli Inglesi'

Il giglio di Firenze   [Immagine] -
                Quadro di Teresa Poluzzi per il Centenario    


: Dante vivo || White Silence

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