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Seattle Art Museum (SAM)

Amor Caritas

Photo: Paul Macapia

Amor Caritas

modeled 1898; cast probably 1898

Augustus Saint-Gaudens

Born Dublin, Ireland, 1848; died Cornish, New Hampshire, 1907

In their highest achievements the arts are not so much the instruments and expression of the solitary individual artist as the means which the nation adopts, creates, inspires for the expression of its faith, its loftiness of spirit. They are the embodiment of its ideals; the permanent form of its poetic moods. When the nation is great enough to require great art there will be artists ready for its need.

American historian Charles Eliot Norton (1827-1908), in a lecture on "American Culture," 1867

In the decades following the U.S. Civil War, American artists consciously allied their own creations with the great art traditions of ancient Greece and Rome in order to advance a proud national sense of the high aspirations of American culture. In every area of American society and thoughtfrom politics to finance, from city planning to architecture and every other manner of artistic productionthis period was the American Renaissance. By 1876, the United States was, in the minds of many, on the verge of becoming a new Athens or a modern Florence, such was the perceived economic, intellectual and artistic potential of the young New World republic. Art was created in the service of high ideals.

One of the greatest exemplars of the Renaissance spirit in America was the sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens. He lent his talents to extraordinary civic projects; collaborated with artists, designers, craftsmen and architects in the spirit of artistic brotherhood that characterized this new Golden Age; and selected subjects that might ennoble his audience.

For this bronze sculpture, one of his most important monuments, Saint-Gaudens chose feminine beauty as a symbol of what he considered to be the greatest measure of humankind: our potential for selfless giving to others. Or, to put it as Saint-Gaudens did in the Latin language of ancient Rome, our exalted capacity for amor (love) and caritas (charity).
Bronze, lost wax cast
Bronze: 39 7/8 x 17 x 4 1/2 in. (101.3 x 43.2 x 11.4 cm)
Frame: 52 x 32 x 6 3/8in. (132.1 x 81.3 x 16.2cm)
Gift of Ann and Tom Barwick, General Acquisition Fund, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Art Acquisition Fund, the Utley Endowment, the American Art Endowment, and the 19th Century Paintings Fund, in honor of the 75th Anniversary of the Seattle Art Museum
Provenance: Gift in memory of Nancy Legge Wood Hooper to the Unitarian Society, Fall River, Massachusetts, probably 1898 or soon after-1986; sold [Christie's, New York, December 5, 1988, lot 32]; [Hirschl & Adler Galleries, Inc., New York], December 3,1987-May 1994; consigned to [Christie's, New York, May 26, 1994, lot 39; unsold]; returned to [Hirschl & Adler Galleries, Inc., New York], May 1994-February 2006; sold to Seattle Art Museum, 2006
Photo: Paul Macapia
Not currently on view

Amor Caritas as a Memorial Figure

Grave marker In shape of a lekythos (oil or perfume container): Nikokles and Aristokrates standing next to their seated sister, 350-323 B.C., Greek, Athens, 55.204
Saint-Gaudens' sculpture Amor Caritas recalls an ancient Greek grave marker, or stele. Its form, coupled with its express sentiment of selfless love and giving, made it an appropriate memorial to a woman, and the figure was used as a memorial tablet. In this instance, the sculpture was commissioned by the children of Nancy Legge Wood Hooper to honor their mother, whose husband founded the Unitarian Society in Fall River, Massachusetts, in 1839. The figure bears an inscription to Mrs. Hooper. The memorial tablet was installed in the church probably just after Mrs. Hooper's death in 1898 and remained there until the church burned down in 1983.
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Unitarian Church, Fall River, Massachusetts, n.d.
The Hooper family was one of the most prominent in Boston and Fall River, Massachusetts. Dr. Foster Hooper was among the founders of the progressive Unitarian Society in Fall River. Among the famous pastors of the Fall River Unitarian Society was Samuel Longfellow, brother of Boston poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

We do not know the circumstances by which the Hooper family came to acquire this reduction of Amor Caritas for a memorial for inside the church. Because the building was destroyed by fire, there are no extant records for the church. However, the Hooper family is known to have been patrons of the leading artists of the day, and so it is not surprising that they might have been among the first to see and appreciate the significance of this sculpture by Saint-Gaudens.

Proceeds from the sale of this cast of Amor Caritas by the Unitarian Society of Fall River were used to build a new church after the 1983 fire.

The Evolution of Amor Caritas

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Amor, ca. 1881-83, photogravure after bronze by Augustus Saint-Gaudens
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Ann Maria Smith Tomb, Island Cemetery, Newport, Rhode Island, 1887, Augustus Saint-Gaudens and Louis Saint-Gaudens
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Amor Caritas, 1898, photogravure after bronze by Augustus Saint-Gaudens

Love and Charity

I have had a good reduction made of the "Angel with the Tablet" that came out very well . . . the question is what inscription I shall put on the tablet. . . . The figure means so much that a wide range of device is possible. "To know is to forgive," "Peace on Earth," "God is Love," "Good will towards men,' "Amor Caritas" are those that have occurred to me.

— Saint Gaudens, in a letter to a friend, September 14, 1898
Detail, 2006.4


Exhibition HistoryNew York, Hirschl & Adler Galleries, Uncommon Spirit: Sculpture in America, 1800-1940, Apr. 22-June 9, 1989. Cat. no. 16, pp. 30-31, reproduced.

New York, Richard York Gallery, The Italian Presence in American Art, 1860-1920, Nov.-Dec. 1989. Text by Judith Hayward. Cat. no. 33, pp. 24, 27, reproduced p. 44.

New York, Hirschl & Adler Galleries, Counterpoint: Two Centuries of American Masters, Apr. 21-June 8, 1990. Cat. no. 47, pp. 76-77, reproduced.

Gloucester, Scotland, City of Gloucester, America's Sculptural Heritage: Anchored in Gloucester, 1998. No cat. no., p. 19, reproduced.

West Palm Beach, Florida, Eaton Fine Art, From Neo-classical and Beaux Arts to Modernism: A Passage in American Sculpture, 2001. No cat. no., pp. 24-25, reproduced.

Published ReferencesSeattle Art Museum: Bridging Cultures. London: Scala Publishers Ltd. for the Seattle Art Museum, 2007; pp. 22-23, reproduced. p. 23.

Junker, Patricia. "America in the Artful Age." In A Community of Collectors, edited by Chiyo Ishikawa, p. 188, reproduced fig. 159. Seattle: Seattle Art Museum, 2008.

Junker, Patricia. "A Sense of Place: American Art and the Seattle Art Museum." The Magazine Antiques (November 2008): p. 113, reproduced p. 112, fig. 7.

Seattle Art Museum respectfully acknowledges that we are on Indigenous land, the traditional territories of the Coast Salish people. We honor our ongoing connection to these communities past, present, and future.

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