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Moses Jacob Ezekiel

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Moses Jacob Ezekiel, also known as Moses "Ritter von" Ezekiel (October 28, 1844 – March 27, 1917), was an American sculptor who lived and worked in Rome for the majority of his career. Ezekiel was "the first American-born Jewish artist to receive international acclaim".[1][2]

He was a cadet at the Virginia Military Institute and served in the Confederate Army during the American Civil War, including at the Battle of New Market. He is the only well-known sculptor to have seen action in the Civil War.[3]

After the war, he completed his degree at VMI, and a few years later went to Berlin, where he studied at the Prussian Academy of Art. He moved to Rome, where he lived and worked most of his life, selling his works internationally, including as commissions in the United States.

He has been described as a "Confederate expatriate"[3] and a "proud Southerner",[4] and the Confederate battle flag hung in his Rome studio for 40 years.[3] The most famous of his monuments is the Confederate Memorial in Arlington National Cemetery, which he thought of as the "crowning achievement of his career."[5]


Ezekiel was born in Richmond, Virginia, the son of Jacob Ezekiel (1812–1899), an Ashkenazic Jew. His mother, Catherine de Castro Ezekiel, was Sephardic.[6][7] His grandparents had emigrated from Holland in the early 1800s, settling first in Philadelphia and later in Richmond.[8]Template:Rp His father was a cotton merchant[7] and bookbinder, "a good writer and a well-read man, who possessed the complete works of Maimonides".[9]Template:Rp While in the book-binding business in Baltimore (1833–34), Jacob founded the Hebrew Benevolent Society of Baltimore.[10] Jacob moved to Richmond in 1834, entering the dry-goods business with first one, then another brother-in-law.[11]Template:Rp He was secretary of the synagogue Kahal Kadosh Beth Shalome "and spokesman of the Jews of Richmond".[11]Template:Rp In Cincinnati, Jacob served as Secretary of the Board of Hebrew Union College. He was a charter member of B'nai B'rith.[12]

The seventh child,[8]Template:RpTemplate:Refn Moses had three brothers and eight sisters,[13]Template:Refn at least one of which was stillborn.[9]Template:Rp He was brought up as an observant Jew by his grandparents, to whom his parents sent him to live due to financial difficulties.[4][8]Template:RpTemplate:Refn They owned a dry-goods store that sold suits and women's dresses for slaves about to be sold. They also owned a few slaves.[3][5] Moses "was sent to a 'pay' school", that of "old Mr. Burton Davis",[9]Template:Rp and he attended dancing school.[9]Template:Rp

Virginia Military Institute and the Civil War

Ezekiel's most famous work, the Confederate Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.

When Fort Sumter was fired upon and Virginia seceded, Ezekiel enrolled in the Virginia Military Institute in Lexington, Virginia,[7] the first Jewish cadet (student) to do so.[14] He was Corporal of the Guard that accompanied the coffin of Stonewall Jackson (a Virginia Military Institute instructor) at his burial in Lexington in 1863.[8]Template:Rp[11] He and other cadets from VMI marched 80 miles north and fought at the 1864 Battle of New Market. He was wounded in a fight with Union army troops under Franz Sigel. After his recovery, he served with the cadets in Richmond to train new recruits for the army. Shortly before the end of the war, he served in the trenches defending the city.[15]

Following the Civil War, Ezekiel returned to VMI to finish his education, graduating in 1866. He studied anatomy at the Medical College of Virginia in 1866–68, thinking of becoming a doctor.[9]Template:Rp[8]Template:Rp In 1867–68 he was superintendent of the Richmond Hebrew Sunday School.[16]

He moved in with his parents in Cincinnati in 1868; his parents had moved there, where their oldest daughter Hannah lived, after losing their business in Richmond to fire.[9]Template:Rp[8]Template:Rp While not there long, in his memoirs he calls Cincinnati his home.[17]


In Cincinnati he began the study of sculpture[3] at the Art School of J. Insco Williams and in the studio of Thomas Dow Jones.[9]Template:Rp[15] Moving to Berlin in 1869, he studied at the Prussian Academy of Art under Professor Albert Wolf.

Needing money, in 1873, during the Franco-Prussian War, he was a war correspondent for the New York Herald,[18]Template:Rp and he was arrested and imprisoned "for a time" as a spy for France.[6] He was admitted into the Society of Artists, Berlin, and at age 29 was the first foreigner to win the Michael Beer Prix de Rome, for a bas relief entitled Israel. The prize of $1,000 provided for two years of study in Rome,[19]Template:Rp but he traveled to Rome by way of the United States, where he had not been for five years,[9]Template:Rp as he had "unexpectedly" received a commission from B'nai B'rith for a monument to Religious Liberty.[9]Template:Rp[8]Template:Rp

Rome studio

Arriving in Rome in 1874, he fell in love with the Eternal City, which he soon made his home. It was there that he completed the sculptures and paintings for which he is famous.

"Ezekiel found both personal and artistic freedom in Rome. He dressed like a dandy and spent extravagantly on entertaining friends, clients, and potential clients."[7] His studio in Rome was in the former Baths of Diocletian, where every Friday afternoon he had open house.[19]Template:Rp It was called "one of the Show Places of the Eternal City, magnificent in proportions and stored with fine art works."[20] and many visitors left descriptions of it.[18]Template:Rp

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Perhaps the most characteristic of his creations was the celebrated studio.… Here in the vaulted thermae built in the days of Diocletian he had gathered together treasures from many lands and ages. Ancient marbles and alabasters, bronzes, costly metals and relics beautified with precious stones, medieval parchments and church ornaments, oriental ivories, velvets and silks hung on all sides, in alluring contrast to the latter-day furniture and the twentieth century grand piano, proclaiming the broad sympathies and the catholic tastes of this citizen of the world.[21]Template:Rp

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Under a leafy arbor, a paved stairway leads up to a vineclad terrace, from which you have an extensive view of the surroundings. Doves have built their nests in the masonry and flit fearlessly to and fro about you. Works of art, vases, fragments of old armor, antique heads and ornaments gleam through the dark foliage. Artists' hands have appropriately ornamented the interior of the high hall; pillars, rich with carving of vines, uphold the arches; lamps and statuettes occupy the mantels; tapestries and paintings adorn the walls. Hours might be spent in examining the works of art, great and small, in this wondrous room. Nothing is commonplace: every seat, every cloth, every cup and dish, every furnishing, bears its individual stamp.[22]

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"His picturesque studio in the Baths of Diocletian was the rendezvous of all important American visitors and the most prominent representatives of art."[6] Among the visitors to his studio were:

A lecture in his studio was attended by 150 people.[9]Template:Rp He also hosted musicales there,[23]Template:Rp where could be heard "the finest music by the greatest talent".[9]Template:Rp

Ezekiel occupied this studio from 1879 to 1910.[23]Template:Rp After 30 years, the government "demand[ed] the possession of this part of the ruins as an adjunct to the National Roman Museum. On leaving there he was given by the municipal authorities the Tower of Belisarius on the Pincian Hill overlooking the Borghese Gardens, which furnished him a home for the rest of his years, while he took a studio and work rooms in the Via Fausta and just off the Piazza del Popolo."[19]Template:Rp

Personal life

Fedor Encke. Drawing by Moses Jacob Ezekiel.

Although Ezekiel never married, he had a daughter, Alice Johnson (1859-1926). According to a census document of July 14, 1860, Alice Johnson was 10 months old, suggesting she was born in September 1859. She would therefore have been conceived at the beginning of 1859[24] when Moses was 14. Her mother was Isabella, a "beautiful mulatto housemaid" of his father.[24]Template:Rp After graduating from Howard University, Alice became a schoolteacher and married Daniel Hale Williams in 1898, who was also mixed race. He became a prominent, pioneering heart surgeon. They lived in Chicago for much of his career.[25][26][27]

Isabella visited Moses in Rome with Alice, but returned shortly thereafter. Moses never refers to Alice in his Memoirs, and there is no record of any other contact between them.

In 1872, in Berlin, he met Fedor Encke (1851–1926), the "illegitimate grandson of King Friedrich Wilhelm II of Prussia."[4] Encke was a portrait painter later commissioned to do portraits of Theodore Roosevelt and John Pierpont Morgan, among others; he also painted Ezekiel.[8]Template:Rp The pair "traveled together often and socialized with Europe's elites, including Hungarian composer Franz Liszt, French actress Sarah Bernhardt and Queen Margherita of Italy."[4] Encke accompanied Ezekiel on a visit to the United States.[8]Template:Rp According to writer Michael Feldberg, Ezekial and Encke had "a forty-five year homosexual relationship…that neither acknowledged publicly."[7] About this relationship, Ezekial was always circumspect in his letters and memoirs, referring to Encke only as his "traveling companion" and "my dear friend."[9]Template:Rp[28]

Biographer Peter Adam Nash, in The Life and Times of Moses Jacob Ezekiel, describes Ezekiel as homosexual, but Nash does not produce any direct evidence for this; Nash's assumption is made from his research of Ezekiel's papers and of their social and historical context.[29]

Awards and honors

In his lifetime, Ezekiel received numerous honors: he was decorated by King Umberto I of Italy, the "Crosses for Merit and Art" from the German Emperor, another from Prince Frederick Johann of Saxe-Meiningen, and the awards of "Chevalier" (Cavaliere) and "Officer of the Crown of Italy" (1910) from King Victor Emmanuel III of Italy. Ezekiel received the Gold Medal of the Royal Society of Palermo, Italy; the silver medal at the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition in St. Louis, Missouri; and the Raphael Medal from the Art Society of Urbino, Italy.

The honorific "Sir" by which Ezekiel is often referred is technically incorrect, as Ezekiel was never knighted by the monarch of the United Kingdom. More properly, his title was "Cavaliere" Moses Ezekiel, because of his Italian knighthood, or Moses "Ritter von" Ezekiel, because of his German honors. Ezekiel translated his Italian title into the English "Sir" on his visiting cards, resulting in the honorific by which he became known in English-speaking countries.[30]

In 1904, he was presented the New Market Cross of Honor at VMI by the Government of Virginia as one of the 294 cadets who fought at the Battle of New Market.


Ezekiel's grave on the north side of the Confederate Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery.

Ezekiel died in his studio in Rome, Italy during the First World War,[31] and was temporarily entombed there. In 1921, he was reinterred at the foot of his Confederate Memorial in Section 16 of Arlington National Cemetery. The inscription on his grave reads "Moses J. Ezekiel Sergeant of Company C Battalion of Cadets of the Virginia Military Institute."


Critical assessments

Compared to Michelangelo in 1876,[9] Ezekiel's fame has not stood the test of time. "Famous in his day, he is almost forgotten now."[17] According to his biographer Peter Nash, "You wouldn't go to Rome to make new, progressive art."[4] "He could not accept modern art", and "rejected" Rodin, whom he considered "pretentious".[9]Template:Rp[32] After noting the awards he received during his life, Sue Eisenfeld noted:

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But in death, the art world ignored and forgot him because he never innovated; he emulated the classical style of the previous masters, focusing on the full human figure and historical and allegorical subjects, even when the time for that style had come and gone.[3]

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"As was his custom with his monuments, Ezekiel proceeded meticulously to reflect historical accuracy,"[9]Template:Rp according to the editors of his memoirs.

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[But his works] are utterly devoid of innovations or daring new modes of representation. His prime concern was the literary and historical idea behind the work…. But he failed to realize, like other 19th-century artists, that noble thoughts alone do not guarantee that the works they inspire will be great art… he frequently sacrificed his design to accurate depiction and photographic truth.[5]

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"Lost Cause" movement

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Another factor possibly contributing to his "relative obscurity" today may be his devotion to the Confederacy.[4]

Ezekiel's sculptures of Confederate heroes are the most visible manifestation of, and a significant factor in the legitimacy of, the Lost Cause of the Confederacy, in which he was a "true believer".[4] It is a "romanticized vision of the South and the Confederacy in which soldiers fought honorably for states' rights and free trade rather than treasonously for the cause of slavery. [See Cornerstone speech.] In this narrative, slave owners are painted as benign protectors and providers for their African-American 'dependents.'"[4]

"Ezekiel's work is integral to this sympathetic view of the Civil War."[4] He depicted Confederate leaders, like Stonewall Jackson, or fallen soldiers like the VMI students, as heroes. "But no monument exemplifies the Lost Cause narrative better than Ezekiel's Confederate Memorial in Arlington, where the woman representing the South appears to be protecting the black figures below."[4] According to his relative Judith Ezekiel, "This statue was a very, very deliberate part of revisionist history of racist America."[4] According to historian Gabriel Reich, "the statue functions as propaganda for the Lost Cause.… It couldn't be worse."[4]

On August 20, 2017 — immediately after and "in light of" the Unite the right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia — "nearly two dozen people from the extended Ezekiel family" sent a letter to the Washington Post, asking for the Arlington monument's removal:

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Like most such monuments, this statue intended to rewrite history to justify the Confederacy and the subsequent racist Jim Crow laws. It glorifies the fight to own human beings, and, in its portrayal of African Americans, implies their collusion. As proud as our family may be of Moses’s artistic prowess, we — some twenty Ezekiels — say remove that statue. Take it out of its honored spot in Arlington National Cemetery and put it in a museum that makes clear its oppressive history.[33]

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Religious Liberty (1876) in Philadelphia.

In the early 1880s, Ezekiel created eleven larger-than-life sized statues of famous artists. These were installed in niches on the façade of the Corcoran Gallery of Art's original building (now the Smithsonian's Renwick Gallery). In the early 1960s, they were removed to the Norfolk Botanical Garden in Norfolk, Virginia.

Among his noted works was a memorial at VMI, Virginia Mourning Her Dead (1903), for which he declined payment.[7] It was installed in the small cemetery where six of the 10 VMI cadets killed at the Battle of New Market are buried. He also created a Confederate memorial which he called New South (1914); it was installed at Arlington National Cemetery. Many of his works were of noted leaders.

A single word that could be applied to Ezekiel's statues, which he frequently used himself,[9]Template:Rp is "colossal": his "genius often asserts itself in colossal figures and emblematic monuments".[34] His never-built statue of Johns Hopkins, founder of Johns Hopkins University, was to have been over 15 feet (4.6 m) high, with a "colossal" bust of Hopkins, in bronze, 21⁄2 times life size.[35] His most important statues are huge, and in one case he claimed that it was the largest statue ever made.

Lists of Ezekiel's works are found in the introduction to his Memoirs,[9]Template:Rp in an obituary in Art and Archaeology,[19] and in the New York Times.[6]

Ezekiel was a postwar friend of Robert E. Lee, who recommended he become "an artist",[3][4][9]Template:Rp and said that "the one work I would love to do above anything else in the world"[9]Template:Rp was a public sculpture of Robert E. Lee. But, despite entering at least four contests to do so, this ambition did not come to fruition.[3]




Archival material

The American Jewish Archives, in Cincinnati, has a "Moses Jacob Ezekiel Collection." It "includes original and photocopies of Ezekiel's correspondence and writings, photographs of many of his works, biographies, genealogies, memorial tributes, correspondence of Ezekiel's biographers, articles and newsclippings concerning Ezekiel and miscellaneous items." http://collections.americanjewisharchives.org/ms/ms0044/ms0044.html

Virginia Military Institute has two boxes of Ezekiel papers. "Included is correspondence to Virginia Military Institute Superintendent Edward West Nichols and others, 1867 – 1917, some relating to the design of the Battle of New Market memorial sculpture Virginia Mourning Her Dead; pen and ink sketches by Ezekiel (ca. 67 items); the typed manuscript of Ezekiel's autobiography, Memoirs from the Baths of Diocletian, and miscellaneous printed material."[15] Ezekiel's Memoirs, a fundamental source, were unknown until they were rediscovered in the Hebrew Union Archives by the two rabbis, who after much editorial work, prepared them for publication in 1975. They were called "gossipy" but "readable" in a review.[1]

Some additional material is in the archives of Congregation Beth Ahabah, of Richmond,[11] which contains the archive of Jacob Ezekiel's synagogue, Kahal Kadosh Beth Shalome, the Hebrew Union College of Cincinnati, on whose board of directors Jacob was secretary, and the organizations such as B'nai Brith and United Daughters of the Confederacy that commissioned sculptures.



In popular culture

Ezekiel was portrayed by Josh Zuckerman in the 2014 film Field of Lost Shoes, which depicted the Battle of New Market.

Ezekiel is the sculptor Askol in Carel Vosmaer's novel The Amazon, in which Ezekiel's studio is described in detail,[9]Template:Rp[54] It is also described in Mary Agnes Tincker's The Jewel in the Lotus;[9]Template:Rp[55] "the opening pages depict the studio of Salathiel, the sculptor, the original of which character in the novel was Moses Ezekiel."[18]Template:Rp

A poem about his Israel was written by Pietschmann, of Berlin.[18]Template:Rp

Gabriele d'Annunzio wrote a poem, "To Mole Ezekiel," in 1887.[9]Template:Rp

A description of his studio by Lilian V. de Bosis was published in the May 1891 issue of 'kTye Esquiline.[18]Template:Rp

See also







External links

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  2. Nash (2014), p. xi.
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  25. The Booker T. Washington Papers, Vol.9, footnote, p. 396, November 1907, U. of Illinois Press Template:Webarchive
  26. Helen Buckler, Doctor Dan: Pioneer in American Surgery, (originally published before 1923; reprinted by Nabu Press, 2011), pp. 147-58, 226-27. Another edition, published in 1968, is Buckler's Daniel Hale Williams, Negro Surgeon.
  27. Template:Cite news
  28. Nash (2014), p. 78.
  29. Nash (2014), pp. xi, 50, 78-79, 100, 119-120.
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  36. Statuary Vista Template:Webarchive from Norfolk Botanical Garden.
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  44. Confederate Soldiers Memorial Template:Webarchive from Arlington National Cemetery.
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  46. Jessica Template:Webarchive from Flickr.
  47. Judith from Cincinnati Art Museum.
  48. Ecce Homo, (sculpture) Template:Webarchive from Smithsonian Institution CollectionsSearchCenter.
  49. Jefferson Template:Webarchive from U.S. Senate.
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  51. Eve Hearing the Voice from Cincinnati Art Museum.
  52. Faith Template:Webarchive from Peabody Art Collection.
  53. Governor Curtin bust Template:Webarchive from Philadelphia Public Art.
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