Return to Previous Page

Diana
Diana, 1892-1893
Augustus Saint-Gaudens, American (born Ireland)
Gilded copper sheets
Figure (Height): 157 inches (398.8 cm) Figure including Ball (Height): 174 inches (442 cm)
Gift of the New York Life Insurance Company, 1932
1932-30-1
[ More Details ]
Gilding Diana

Augustus Saint-Gaudens’s Diana has adorned the top of the Museum’s Great Stair Hall for more than eighty years. It was created in 1892–93 as a gilded weather vane for the tower of New York’s Madison Square Garden, designed by Stanford White. The beloved sculpture underwent a remarkable transformation in 2013–14 when conservators repaired and preserved its copper structure and restored its original gold leaf finish. The project was completed in July 2014.

Diana is arguably the best-known work of Saint-Gaudens, the most celebrated sculptor of America’s Gilded Age. It is his only nude female sculpture and one of only two gilded sculptures that he created for exterior sites, the other being the Sherman Memorial in New York. When installed on Madison Square Garden’s tower, it turned and glittered 347 feet above the street at one of the highest points in Manhattan. Representing the grandeur and sophistication of the Gay Nineties, its brilliant 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 Diana’s brazen nudity, the goddess of the hunt made a fitting ornament for the sporting and entertainment arena below, a building conceived as “the most magnificent amusement palace in the world.”

As the optimism of the Gilded Age faded into the twentieth century, Madison Square Garden fell into bankruptcy and deteriorated. Thirty years of weathering atop the tower had diminished Diana’s golden surface, and the sculpture was removed just prior to the building’s demolition in 1925. When Diana was adopted by the Museum in 1932, it was cleaned and repaired—but not regilded—before it was installed in the grand staircase.

In 2013 the Museum’s conservation staff began its restoration of Diana by analyzing and documenting her condition and performing tests to determine optimal cleaning and gilding techniques. They removed corrosion from the sculpture’s copper surfaces and coated them with a paint containing a corrosion inhibitor. 180 square feet of gold leaf was then meticulously applied. Finally, as Saint-Gaudens did not like the look of bright gold at eye level, the conservators matted the gilding for interior display.

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.

Watch Video >>



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.

Watch Video >>



Repair, Gilding, and Final Display

See the final steps in Diana’s transformation, including structural repairs and coatings of zinc chromate to prevent corrosion. Also, witness how gold leaf is delicately applied to her surface as well as the ways in which her new luster is made less bright so visitors can fully appreciate her beautiful modeling and form indoors.

Watch Video >>


Sponsors

Conservation on this work was made possible by a grant from the Bank of America Art Conservation Project.

The Bank of America Art Conservation Project is a unique program that provides grants to nonprofit museums throughout the world to conserve historically or culturally significant works of art, including works that have been designated as national treasures.

Return to Previous Page