A Virgin

A Virgin by Abbott Handerson Thayer, Smithsonian Institution, CC-BY

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License of this image: CC-BY-SA
License of original image: Freer and Sackler Galleries, Smithsonian Institution - CC-BY

By: Abbott Handerson Thayer (1849–1921)
Created: 1892-1893, Collection: Freer and Sackler Galleries, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC, US Rights: CC-BY

This is a wonderful opportunity for a portrait of three siblings. The composition is based on a triangle. The tallest sibling should march ahead, the others follow on the left and the right. If you want to achieve this "antique goddess look", use sheets of thin fabric and wrap them around your body. Clouds are a bit more difficult to arrange, but don't give up and eventually you will manage to shoot the right photo!

The American artist Thayer began this group portrait of his children, Gladys, Mary, and Gerald, soon after the untimely death of their mother in 1891. He originally envisioned the central figure, Mary (who temporarily took charge of her siblings), as Flora, the Greek goddess of flowers. But as the work progressed he decided to make her a Greek “Victory” figure instead, with clouds billowing behind her like wings.

The model for Mary’s dramatic stance was a famous Hellenistic sculpture in the Louvre, the Nike of Samothrace (second century BCE), known as the Winged Victory. Thayer would have seen that sculpture while he was a student in Paris during the late 1870s, when it was reinstalled at the head of the grand staircase. Visitors of the Louvre can still see it today at the very same spot.

A related inspiration was the Sherman Monument, by Thayer’s friend and sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens (1848–1907). Commissioned in 1891 and unveiled in 1903 at the Grand Army Plaza, New York City, the monument features a powerful winged female figure, also modeled on the Winged Victory, leading the commander of the Union army into battle.