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Joseph Moziers sculpture is based on the allegorical figure of Melancholy from John Milton's 1632 poem Il Penseroso. Milton's central character, the Thinker, embodies both the black melancholy that afflicts its victims with depression and the golden melancholy that inspires poets. Melancholy is both male and female, dark and light. Mozier's mentor, the American sculptor Hiram Powers, had changed the allegorical figures gender for a statue titled La Penserosa, and the younger man modeled his work after Powers's version. Research has not determined why he gave this work the male title. Mozier's figure wears classical robes symbolizing the brighter muse of melancholy, whose gifts inspired the poets of Greece and Rome. She keeps her wonted state, gazing to the skies rather than looking to the corrupt earth with leaden downward cast.

Credit: Transfer from the U.S. Capitol

1866
Marble
173.4 x 54.0 x 56.5 cm
XX75
Image and text: Smithsonian American Art Museum, 2024

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