Augustus Saint-Gaudens, American (born Ireland)
Copper sheets, gilded
Figure (Height): 157 inches (398.8 cm) Figure including Ball (Height): 174 inches (442 cm)
Gift of the New York Life Insurance Company, 1932
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Behind this scaffolding in the Museum's Great Stair Hall stands the graceful Diana of Augustus Saint-Gaudens (American, born Ireland, 1848–1907), which has adorned the top of these great stairs for more than eighty years. The sculpture, created in 1892–93, is undergoing a remarkable transformation that will repair and preserve her copper structure and restore her original gold leaf finish.The Museum’s conservation staff is analyzing and documenting Diana's current condition and performing tests to determine optimal cleaning and gilding techniques. Following this work, corrosion will be removed from the sculpture’s copper surfaces. After the metal is coated with a paint containing a corrosion inhibitor, gold leaf will be meticulously applied to recover the shine that Saint-Gaudens intended. Diana is arguably the best-known work of an artist recognized at the turn of the century as the country’s finest sculptor. When installed in 1893 on the tower of New York’s Madison Square Garden, she ruled one of the highest points in Manhattan; her gilded form caught the sun during the day and was illuminated at night by the city’s first electric floodlights. Although some were shocked by her brazen nudity, the goddess of the hunt made a fitting weathervane for the sporting and entertainment arena below. However, years of weathering dulled her golden surface, and after the building was demolished in 1925, Diana was homeless until she was adopted by the Philadelphia Museum of Art in 1932. Goddess of the Great Stair Hall ever since, she has become an icon of the Museum.
Behind the Scenes
Investigation and Cleaning Tests
In this video, conservator Adam Jenkins explains the conservation work performed during the first six weeks of the restoration. Watch as a workspace is created around the sculpture in the Museum’s Great Stair Hall, the inside of the sculpture is explored, the ball pedestal and bow and arrow are disassembled, and dramatic cleaning of the copper surface begins.
Physical and Chemical Analysis
As the restoration of Diana continues, Chair of Conservation Andrew Lins explains a few of the tests being performed on the sculpture by the conservation team. Watch as Diana undergoes steam cleaning, X-ray imaging, and ultrasonic thickness testing, and then take a look inside the Museum’s analytical lab, where tiny samples of the sculpture’s original gold are viewed with a scanning electron microscope.