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Vinnie Ream Marble Sculpture

Spirito Del Carnevale (Spirit of the Carnival)sculpture by Vinnie Ream, 1870.
(Museum Object #1965.270.2)

While traveling in Italy in 1870, Wisconsin-born sculptor Vinnie Ream witnessed the festive preparations for the Roman carnival and became inspired to create Spirito Del Carnevale (Spirit of the Carnival) later that year. The white marble statue, made in her Rome studio, depicts a young woman seated on a stone bench clutching a long garland of flowers in her hands. A necklace holding a cross of pearls hangs around the woman's neck.

Ream wrote extensively about her experiences in Rome. Her family had a room in the heart of carnival setting, and from there she detailed the lavish scenes. She described the role of flowers in carnival courting traditions and the festive presence of intricate masquerade disguises. These two elements are prominently featured in her Spirito Del Carnevale's composition. An 1871 newspaper account describes the statue as "a young woman throwing a wreath of flowers." Originally attached to the wreath was a poem, long since broken off, which read:

Spirit of the Carnival, reckless, happy, free and gay;
Thou must, like thy blooming garlands, with the season pass away!
Happy was the thought that caught thee, like a bird upon the wing,
And in marble reproduced thee,
Oh, thou subtle, fleeting thing!

Ream was born in Madison, allegedly in the city's first cabin, and became one of the best known Wisconsin natives of her time. When Ream was ten, her family moved from Madison, eventually settling in Washington, D.C., where Ream began to work with a local sculptor. In 1864 her family arranged for her to model a bust of President Lincoln in clay. After his death, Ream - still in her teens - received the $10,000 federal commission to sculpt the statue of Lincoln for the United States Capitol. The commission caused a stir, given Ream's youth and relative lack of experience. However, Ream's bid had the support of numerous influential politicians, many of whom she considered personal friends and Ream went on to model portraits of many other prominent individuals. Today those works are located in museums and cities around the country.

The Wisconsin Historical Society also possesses other Ream-related materials including: two other marble sculptures by Ream (Idleness and Passion Flower), many of her sculpting tools, her beloved harp, a plaster bust of her, and two oil portraits.

[Source: Sherwood, Glenn V. A Labor of Love: the Life and Art of Vinnie Ream (Hygiene, CO: SunShine Press Publications, c 1997).]


Posted on March 23, 2006

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