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 Moses Jacob Ezekiel  (1844 - 1917)

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Lived/Active: Virginia / Italy      Known for: sculptor-classical figure

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Ad Code: 3
Moses Jacob Ezekiel
from Auction House Records.
The Dying Alexander
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
The following information is submitted by The Rev. Randolph M. Bragg

Moses Jacob Ezekiel was born into a large Jewish merchant family in Richmond, Virginia on 28 October, 1844. In 1862, he became the first Jewish cadet to enroll in the Virginia Military Institute, and was a part of the VMI Cadet Corps who fought in the Battle of New Market. After the War, he was one of the ten cadets to return to Lexington to reconstitute the Institute, and graduated in 1866. During this last year in Lexington, he became a close friend of General and Mrs. Robert E. Lee and was the organist in the Lees Episcopal Church.

He returned to Richmond to work in the family business and studied anatomy at the Medical College of Virginia. When the family business failed in 1867, the family moved to Cincinnati, Ohio, and Ezekiel sailed for Germany determined to make his way in the world as an artist. He gained admittance to the Royal Academy of Art in Berlin, from which he graduated in 1871. He remained in that city for further study under Rudolph Siemering and Albert Wolff, and in 1873 became the first American to win the Michel Beer Prix de Rome for his relief sculptures Israel and Adam and Eve Finding the Body of Abel, after which he moved to Rome to set up his own studio.

He lived and worked in Rome until his death in on 27 March 1917. During most of that period he rented a tower in the Baths of Diocletian in which he had his living quarters and studio. His personal friendships with Franz Liszt, Cardinal Hohenlohe, and other notables of the time gained him entry to the highest social circles in Rome, and made him a well-known figure in the city and beyond (he was the model for the character of Askol in Carel Vosmaers 1880 novel The Amazon). Ezekiel's work was widely praised and he received honorary knighthoods from the Grand Duke of Saxe-Meiningen, the King of Italy, and the Emperor of Germany.

A true expatriate, Ezekiel associated himself with the European artistic community in Rome rather than the American artists there, although he had many friends and admirers among the other Americans resident in the city. He took pride in his service to the Confederacy and displayed both Virginia and Confederate flags in his studio.

Ezekiels sculpture displays a high degree of technical proficiency in both marble and bronze. His portrait sculptures are realistic and insightful, but the romantic and idealized style which mark his larger allegorical works was soon to go out of fashion, and he is not much remembered today.

Among the more notable of the seventy-five known surviving works are Homer and Guide (bronze, 1881), University of Virginia; Benjamin Hotchkiss (bronze, 1879), University of Cincinnati; Franz Liszt (bronze, 1881) Skirball Museum, Los Angeles; Ecce Homo, (bronze, 1886), Cincinnati Art Museum; Christ in Tomb (marble, 1896), Chapelle de Notre Dame de Consolation, Paris; Isaac Meyer Wise (bronze, 1900) Hebrew Union College, Cincinnati; Virginia Mourning her Dead (A monument to the VMI Cadets killed at New Market; bronze 1900) Virginia Military Institute, Lexington, Virginia; Anthony Drexel (bronze, 1904) Jennie McGraw Fiske (marble, 1908), Sage Chapel, Cornell University; Stonewall Jackson (bronze, 1909), State Capitol, Charleston, West Virginia; and his last work, the Confederate Memorial (bronze, 1912) at Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Virginia.

In accordance with his wishes, Ezekiel was buried beneath this monument on 30 March, 1921 to the strains of Liszt's Loves Dream played by the US Marine Band. In the eulogy which was read on the occasion, President Warren G. Harding called him "a great Virginian, a great artist, a great American, and a great citizen of world fame," but his epitaph reads only: "Moses J. Ezekiel, Sergeant of Company C, Battalion of Cadets of the Virginia Military Institute".

As a man, Ezekiel is a fascinating bundle of contradictions and incongruities, a Jewish American Confederate Theosophist Freemason sculptor who spent virtually his entire adult life working in the center of Roman Catholicism. In their introduction to his memoirs, Joseph Gutmann and Stanley Chyet quote an unnamed critic who assessed Ezekiel as " ... endowed with an uncommonly strong talent which in a time of unfettered artistic development would have brought him prominence; now he is in the grip of an eclectic era, the victim of false schooling."

The best source of information on Ezekiel's life and work remains the 1975
Wayne State University publication of Memoirs from the Baths of Diocletian
edited by Gutmann and Chyet, from which much of the data in this article is

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