Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Relief Sculpture: Memorial to Robert Gould Shaw - Boston, MA

Interesting Places I've Photographed
Memorial to Robert Gould Shaw & the 54th Massachusetts Regiment
Boston, MA
Topic: Relief Sculpture

Direct View
View the High Relief
GPS: N42° 21.450; W071° 03.810
Short Description:

Memorial to Colonel Robert Gould Shaw and the 54th Massachusetts Regiment is located on Beacon Street, opposite the State house in Boston, MA

Long Description

Condensed From the Smithsonian Institute Art Inventory Website:

Artist:  Saint-Gaudens, Augustus, 1848-1907, sculptor.
McKim, Charles Follen, 1847-1909, architect.
Gorham Manufacturing Company, founder.

Title:  Memorial to Robert Gould Shaw, (sculpture).

Other Titles:  Shaw Memorial, (sculpture).
Memorial to Colonel Robert Gould Shaw & the 54th Massachusetts Regiment, (sculpture).

Dates:  Commissioned 1884. 1884-1897. Dedicated May 31, 1897.

Medium:  Relief: bronze; Frame and base: Tennessee marble and granite.

Dimensions:  Overall: approx. H. 11 ft. x W. 14 ft. (13.35 m. x 4.27 m).


(On pedestal under the relief, lines from James Russell Lowell's poem "Memoriae Positum":) Right in the van of the red rampart's slippery swell with heart that beat a charge he fell forward as fits a man: but the high soul burns on to light men's feet where death for noble ends makes dying sweet.


A high relief depicting Colonel Robert Gould Shaw and 16 members the 54th Massachusetts Regiment (one of the first African-American units to serve in the Civil War). They are preceded by a drummer boy. Colonel Shaw sits atop a horse, flanked by ranks of marching soldiers holding rifles over their shoulders. Colonel Shaw is dressed in campaign uniform and holds a sword in his proper right hand. An allegorical female figure hovers above them, holding a laurel or olive branch, and poppies (symbolic of death, sleep, remembrance and victory). An arched ceiling above the figures, decorated with coffers that each hold a star, is part of an elaborate stone frame enclosing the front and back of the bronze sculpture.


In 1865, Joshua B. Smith, an African-American businessman, led the drive to erect a monument in Boston. A committee of 21 was formed, but the project was delayed until the early 1880s. By the end of 1883, Saint-Gaudens had produced several clay models, and on Feb. 23, 1884, a contract was signed to produce a bronze relief. The monument was cast by Gorham Manufacturing Company and the architectural setting was designed by Charles F. McKim. The memorial was dedicated May 31, 1897, with addresses by Governor Wolcott of Massachusetts, Professor William James of Harvard, and African-American leader Booker T. Washington.

The memorial cost approximately $22,000; the terrace setting an additional $20,000. The sculpture was funded by private contributions; the terrace and landscaping financed by the State of Massachusetts. The sculpture is located across from the main entrance to the State House, past which the 54th regiment marched on May 28, 1863 as it embarked for South Carolina. It was at this spot, that Colonel Shaw reportedly paused to raise his sword to John Albion Andrew, governor of Massachusetts, who saluted him from the State House steps.

In 1981-1984, a major restoration of the monument was undertaken through subscription of funds by the Committee to Save the Shaw Memorial. IAS files contain additional bibliographic citations and text of nearby plaques which give history of the monument and brief biography of Saint-Gaudens.

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