Larkin Goldsmith Mead (American, 18351910)
Marble; 27 x 15 1/4 x 11 1/8 in. (68.6 x 38.7 x 28.3 cm)
Purchase, Gift of William Nelson and Gift of Misses Alice and Evelyn Blight and Mrs. William Payne Thompson, by exchange, 1999 (1999.18)
Vermont-born Larkin Goldsmith Mead was a prominent expatriate sculptor who worked in Florence for more than half a century. During the mid-1860s, he made frequent trips to Venice, where his brother-in-law William Dean Howells served as an American consul and where Mead met his future bride Marietta di Benvenuti. Venezia depicts an attractive young woman, probably his wife at the time of their courtship and marriage. As a personification of Venice, she wears a tiara of pearl beads and a central scallop shell upon which is set a miniature gondola. The figure emerges from a textured seafoam bodiceparticularly finely carved in this marblethat serves not only as the bust's termination, but also as a reference to Venice's aqueous environment.
Idealized representations of geographic locales such as Venezia, as well as America and California by Hiram Powers, also in the Museum's collection (66.243; 72.3), were particularly appealing to mid-nineteenth-century Americans. This allegorical bust may be further viewed as a nuptial portrait, since on one level Mead honors his wife and on another offers a tribute to Venice, traditionally known as the Bride of the Sea. Venezia is Mead's best-known sculpture and there are more than ten located marble examples.