The Angel of Death and the Sculptor, sculpted by Daniel Chester French, pays tribute to a fallen American sculptor, Martin Milmore, and challenges the usual representation of Death as the horrible gruesome presence that it has been represented to be ever since the Christian era. Through a combination of high-and-low relief and in-the-round sculpting, French makes you feel almost complacent in the company of death. The benevolent face on the angel of death and the intrigued look on the face of the man, who is replicated after Martin Milmore, faithfully drives home the idea of an untimely death to a well-known artist.
Ultimately, what distinguishes this piece of artwork from others are “the way death is portrayed and the history behind the artistic decisions. ” Daniel Chester French was commissioned in 1889 to create a funeral memorial for the Milmore Family after the unexpected death of Martin Milmore at the age of 39 from cirrhosis of the liver. When the younger brother of Martin, Joseph Milmore, passed away he called for the creation of a monument, which was “to commemorate the life of his older brother. ” During his life Joseph was a stonecutter who was first taught by his brother, which is why he wanted to pay tribute to his brother in his will.
Since Martin Milmore had been a celebrated sculptor, French decided to depict the artist at work with the Angel of Death interrupting his work. Ultimately, the Milmore Memorial was completed in 1893 and installed at Forest Hills Cemetery in a setting made by Henry Bacon. In 1915, French began plans for a version of the Milmore Memorial in marble. Coincidentally in 1917, French was asked by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City for a copy of the Milmore Memorial, which was completed in 1926. In 2009, the Museum’s copy of the Milmore Memorial was placed on the main floor of the newly renovated American Wing.
Housed in the American Wing of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, as you come upon The Angel of Death and the Sculptor you understand why it was chosen for this portion of the museum because of its immense, powerful appeal. Instantaneously, you notice this scene playing out between a man and this woman. Upon further investigation you see that this man is holding a chisel in one hand and a mallet in the other, he is a sculptor. Just as he is about to strike the chisel on his work of the relief sculpture of a Sphinx, the lady dressed in layered robes stops the hand of the man from striking the arble surface. She is holding poppies, which is “meant to symbolize that she is the angel of death. ” However, his facial expression looks curious, but nonetheless appears intrigued by this woman who stands very calm next to him. After further analysis of the sculpture from my trip to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, I noticed that Daniel Chester French had not chosen parts of this sculpture by accident, but had a reason for his artistic decisions. First, lets start with the background.
The relief sculpture of a Sphinx that the man is working on was intended to foreshadow the Sphinx of Martin Milmore, which was completed in 1872 and stands in Mount Auburn Cemetery, Cambridge, MA. The sculpture of the Sphinx is symbolic since it was “commemorated to the fallen heroes of the Civil War. ” Ultimately, memorializing the preservation of the Union and the end to slavery. Daniel Chester French chose this relief sculpture for the background setting of his artwork because he wanted to have a setting of Martin at work. This gives the viewer the impression that death can come at any time, no matter your age or even what you’re doing.
It was French’s intention to depict the young man in The Angel of Death and the Sculptor as a young Martin Milmore who in reality had death come for him at a young age. The next half of my analysis was focused on the woman, the angel of death. At first glance the viewer notices the stunning wings and deeply enveloping clothing that characterize the woman’s appearance. However, this is atypical of the way angels of death were envisioned by people during the time French sculpted this artwork. With The Angel of Death and the Sculptor, French challenges the depiction of the angel of death.
In fact, French’s main intention was to go against the status quo and depict an angel of death that embodies peace and benevolence. In a statement made by Daniel Chester French he says, “It has always seemed to me that this was in direct opposition to the teachings of Christ which represented the next world as a vast improvement over this one. ” Through Daniel Chester French’s artistic decision to depict a benevolent angel of death he pays tribute to an amazing sculptor Martin Milmore by stating to the viewer that death is not the end but the beginning. Death is only a transition from this life to the next.
As one may deduce, The Angel of Death and the Sculptor introduces the theme of death in a manner that is subtle to the viewer. Through clever artistic decisions, French demonstrates that “we know not the hour or who will come to get us when we pass on from this life to the next” , but we can envision a peaceful event. The angel of death is demonstrated as a friend who merely comes to take us by the hand and lead us from this life into the next. Ultimately, Daniel Chester French demands that the view of death be never thought as an end to a means, but a wonderful beginning.