New York Daily Tribune
15 September 1847

  THE GREEK SLAVE.—On the first opening of this statue we briefly expressed the deep effect which as it seemed to us it must produce on every beholder. Since that time it has been exhibited for several days, and has been visited by constantly increasing numbers. Had our impression needed any confirmation we should have found it in the silent and absorbed attention with which we have seen the statue regarded by spectators of all classes and ages. People sit before it as rapt and almost as silent as devotees at a religious ceremony. The same surprise and delight, and the same elevation of sentiment seem in various degrees to be felt by all comers; whatever may be the critical judgement of individuals as to the merits of the work, there is no mistake about the feeling which it awakens.

  We have heard from two or three writers whose opinions we respect, that the face of the statue is without any particular meaning, and that it might as well be called anything else as the Greek Slave. The remark surprised us, and we went straight to the exhibition room for another look at a countenance which we had seen with eyes so different. We confess that by the most careful observation we could not discover any deficiency in this part of the work. To us the face is still full of meaning, and we agree rather with those visitors who have not seen it without being affected to tears.

  One critic whose perceptions in this case we cannot admire, objects to the nudity of the figure; the statue seems in his view to manifest a not very delicate indifference to being in that condition, probably because modeled from persons accustomed to it. Others, as well as this writer, also think that if the sculptor had taken off the chains which confine the wrists of the statue and called it Eve, or Venus, or a Nymph coming from the bath, he would have done better than to call it a Greek Slave.

  As to this last point our friends certainly display a great deal of liberality when they give the artist the whole range between Eve and Venus to select a name from. But we believe that they speak from a hasty impression, and do much less than justice to Mr. Powers. Let us then try to see from what idea the Greek Slave was created.

  To begin with a truism the nude human figure is the only subject which can bring into play the best faculties of the sculptor: he can attempt nothing else if he wishes to produce a great work. As this is so not only for the reason that the human form is in its nature the most perfect of all possible forms, but because it is the only one in which the passions that are the soul of art can be embodied. It is, however, not necessary to seek reasons for what every artist of any eminence has always instinctively felt and acted upon.

  This being the case, whither shall the artist resort for his themes? To the legends of Pagan mythology? Such would be the course of the strict disciples of the antique, no doubt; but Mr. Powers has the honor of boldly and nobly departing from that school. If we understand him aright, he aims to find subjects which in themselves possess a universal and permanent interest, and which must always appeal to the sympathies of beholders, even if every particular or history relating to them be forgotten. To state it in other words, Mr. Powers seeks to found in sculpture the school of Humanity. He would carry into his art that divine spirit which since the advent of Christ has been moving among men. The supreme element in all his works—as we have reason to believe—and in the Greek Slave as we know, is the human. But this is something unknown to the antique for the reason that Christianity brought it into the world; it has also hitherto been as little as possible expressed in the whole range of modern sculpture.

  We fear we do not make our meaning quite clear, but cannot stop to help it.—Now where in modern life is the artist to find a subject which shall satisfy all the conditions, which shall be nude by necessity and without offence to the most delicate taste, and which shall enlist the interest of every spectator? To our minds the very choice Mr. Powers has here made is a striking proof of the fertility and certainty of his genius. A Christian lady exposed in a Turkish slave market to the unrestricted gaze of every buyer! Does any mythology offer aught so touching as that?

  And now concerning the way in which this idea has been carried out. As to the perfection with which the figure itself is executed, we cannot convey an adequate idea; in this respect the best works of the antique are certainly very far inferior to the Slave. Nature is reproduced in her most ideal beauties in the proportions of that person, the outlines of those limbs, the delicate convolutions of those muscles, the absolute truth of every detail. Not one of the infinitely various movements of the infinitely complex human organism but is here displayed. In every part the statue may challenge comparison with the most famous works that have preceded it. We speak of the Venus de Medici only from casts and copies and the information of others, but we do not hesitate to say what better critics have said before us, that the Greek Slave excels it as much in the wonderful faithfulness with which the least details are wrought out, as in the elevation and dignity of the sentiment which it expresses.

  About this sentiment we wish to state our impressions without any alloy of dogmatism, strong as is our conviction of their correctness. It the first place it is true that pain at her exposure is not the predominant feeling in the mind of the Slave. She regards that as something inevitable; she has undergone it before, as persons have come to the market with the view of buying her; she bears it as strong souls bear great misfortunes, with calmness. Moreover, her thought is not of herself; she is recalling the struggling country she has left behind her, the friends she has lost, the blackened and desecrated home she may never see again, the lover of whose fate on the battlefield she is still ignorant. Notice the intense concentration of the brows, the resolution of the lips, the sad abstraction of the features generally, and if you do not see that the face expresses the deep, inward anguish which a noble-hearted woman would feel in such a case, why you look with eyes very different from ours. To our minds the truth of the statue to its character and title is much greater than if it were all overwhelmed with shame, or if its features were distorted with agony. To call it either Venus or Eve, or a Nymph, or anything but what it is, would, we think, be a blunder of which Mr. Powers is not the man to be guilty. In short, it is the Greek Slave, and nothing else.

  Yes, it is something else—a most touching emblem of Woman in the times of war and discord, in that period in the great cycle of Humanity which is symbolized by the forty years wandering of the chosen people in the desert. It is Woman the sorrowing, not Woman the triumphant; the Woman of the present, not of the future. In the Eve, which is not yet finished, Mr. Powers has made a type of Woman in the primitive age of innocence and happiness, the first mother of humanity; the Greek Slave represents her after the Fall has set its brand upon the race, suffering the chains of slavery and the brutal violence of her captors; when will the sculptor embody in marble Woman such as she is destined to be in the days of the Redemption, when the ransomed of the Lord shall return with everlasting joy upon their heads, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away?