Where to Stay
What to See
DFW Tours! Art in Dallas and Fort Worth. What to see and what to do.
William Wetmore Story was one of America’s leading 19th-century sculptors, whose works compare favorably with those of Hiram Powers and Horatio Greenough. His father was a United States Supreme Court Justice and he followed in his footsteps to become a lawyer. After graduating from Harvard he began his law practice, though art was his true love.
It was upon his father’s death that he found his rebirth as a sculptor. He received the commission to create his father’s memorial. It took him two year but his new life as a sculptor was established. He established his residence in Italy and began a prolific life as a sculptor and author.
He and his wife entertained the large British and American Community in their sumptuous quarters in Rome. Each Sunday evening their home served as an open house to those passing through Rome and those who considered Rome to be their new home. His close friends included Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, James Russell Lowell, and later, Henry James.
In Rome his focus was powerful female subjects whose lives were filled with intrigue, deception, and tragedy.
Semiramis was an historical Assyrian queen of Babylonian birth who lived and reigned around 800 B.C. By the 18th century the legends associated with her life had eclipsed her actual accomplishments as queen, notably due to the popularity of Voltaire’s eponymous play, written in 1784.
His version of her life centered on palace intrigue, notably the beautiful queen’s affair with Assur, and her plot to have him poison her husband, the king.
As he dies, the king implores a trusted friend to take his son, Ninias, away from the palace to save his life.
Although Semiramis ruled Babylon well for fifteen years, during that time she was stricken with guilt over the murder of her husband and the loss of her son.
Her lover Assur, however, plots Semiramis’s death after she refuses to marry him and install him as king. To foil his plans, she arranges to marry a young warrior, who is in fact her son, whom she mistakenly believes to be dead.
Ninias is warned away from this incestuous marriage by his father’s ghost, who then demands that his son avenge his murder.
Led by the ghost, Ninias stabs and kills a form he believes is Assur but is, in fact, Semiramis.
Voltaire’s play inspired Rossini’s 1822 operatic version of the story, Semiramide, long considered among the composer’s greatest achievements.
Story almost certainly saw Rossini’s opera, as his favorite diva, Adelaide Ristori, sang the title role.
Story’s sculpture presents the queen fully in command of her throne but deeply absorbed in her own thoughts, contemplating the evil she has wrought.
The sculptor delighted in the archaeological research required to outfit his subjects, and he lavished this queen with Assyrian jewelry–bracelets, a necklace, and a jeweled diadem.
Discreetly yet provocatively dressed, her long legs crossed, she rests on an Assyrian-style chaise.
Her long hair falls in tight ringlets down her back.
This slightly over life-size sculpture rests on its original pedestal base, shaped like a sarcophagus, underscoring the melancholic and tragic implications that underlie the subject.
Story’s marble sculptures of female figures from history and myth attracted considerable positive attention.
Story did not begin to sculpt professionally until 1845. Like most aspiring sculptors of his day, he traveled to Rome for training and to develop the workshop of Italian sculptors who would assist with later commissions.
The Story family lived in the Palazzo Barberini for over sixty years, first, the William Wetmore Story family and then his son, sculptor Waldo Story.
The Story’s were prolific entertainers in the expatriate arts community in Rome.