The Angel of Purity
Philadelphia Museum of Art
America, born Ireland, 1848-1907
When approached by Dr. S. Weir Mitchell and Mary Cadwalader Mitchell, who commissioned this work as a memorial for their daughter, Saint-Gaudens, had recently completed a life-size bronze figure of an angel holding a tablet, Amor Caritas (Charity, or Love), made in 1899 for the French state collections (now housed in the Musee d'Orsay, Paris). He returned to this design, which he described as "one of the things I care for most that I have done," to produce the last and finest in a series of related sculptures begun in 1885. He remodeled the crown and garland of passionflowers (a native North American flower whose parts can be seen as symbolizing Christ's passion), revised the drapery, and redesigned the architectural niche. Like his Diana and the allegorical figure on the James A. Garfield Monument (also in Philadelphia), the angel was modeled from the handsome features of his mistress, Davida Clark. The clay model, cast in plaster, was then carved in marble in response to Mrs. Mitchell's special request. The luminosity of the stone and the delicacy of the carving make the Angel of Purity unique in the Amor Caritas series, the most architectural and classical in spirit, and the artist's most moving statement of sorrow and serenity.