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GLORIA VICTORIA After Marius-Jean-Antonin Mercié (1845-1916), circa 1880
h 18.3 "
The base carved GLORIA VICTORIA Height 46.5 ; wing width W 21.5 cm
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This composition is borrowed from the original model created by the highly regarded French academic sculptor, Antonin Mercié, conceived by him at barely 30 years of age. Mercié first exhibited his model in plaster at the Paris Salon of 1874 and again at the Exposition Universelle of 1878. When it was first exhibited, his Gloria Victis, as it was finally named, became an immediate success, being lauded in academic circles and receiving accolades by the critics. The subject was awarded the Medal of Honor (1874) and then a grand prize (1878). The plaster model was acquired by the city of Paris, which commissioned a bronze cast of it from the bronze founder, Victor Theibaut, who exhibited it at the Salon of 1875 (see fig. 19). As it was such a popular subject, many bronze reductions (including by Barbedienne) were made and survive today. Ivory versions of the subject are extremely unusual.
Mercié originally intended for the group to represent and celebrate a French victory in their war against the Prussians in 1870-71. But, upon learning that the French had actually suffered a defeat rather than a enjoying a victory, Mercié needed to alter his design by celebrating a defeated soldier rather than a victorious one. He therefore shows Nike (or Victory), a quasi mythological angel of the gods, who symbolically descends to earth to crown all victors in battle or war, carrying a wounded, slumped over young man trying to cling to life, holding a broken sabre. By naming the subject Gloria Victis, Mercié draws on an ancient Roman motto, Vae Victis (“Woe to the Defeated”), which glorifies honour and courage in the face of defeat. As H.W. Janson writes on describing this subject: “It was this transposition of a recent, shocking experience into the remote and generalized realm of antiquity that accounts for the overwhelming response of the French public: Gloria Victis helped them to come to terms emotionally with the bitter memory of defeat. It was a uniquely fitting war memorial”.1 Whomever was responsible for this carving has clearly demonstrated his mastery of working with ivory. Interestingly, for some reason unknown to us at this time, the carver has replaced the word Victis in the title with the word Victoria.
1 H.W. Janson, 19th Century Sculpture, Harry N. Abrams, New York, 1985, p. 191.
Peter Fusco and H.W. Janson, The Romantics to Rodin, exhibition cat. for a show held at Los Angeles County Museum of Art, March 4-May 25, 1980, (entry of Mercié on p. 303-306).