Once, she soared above the heads of Cornell luminaries like A.R. Ammons and Roald Hoffmann as they debated the great questions of their time in the Cast Gallery of Goldwin Smith Hall, later turned into the Temple of Zeus café. Then for years she lay forgotten, abandoned to dust and mold and neglect.
But as of Feb. 10, the Flying Nike soars again from her pedestal above the heads of Cornell students and faculty, looking as if she could take off at any moment through the glass-encased roof of the Groos Family Atrium in Klarman Hall.
The Flying Nike is one of many restored pieces from the College of Arts and Sciences’ Cast Collection that will grace Klarman Hall’s new spaces. It is fitting that she was the first, as she is perhaps the most visually striking piece in the collection.
“We are thrilled to be giving a new home in Klarman Hall to some of the Cast Collection’s significant pieces,” says Gretchen Ritter, the Harold Tanner Dean of Arts and Sciences. “Their new placement honors the history of the collection and its relationship to Goldwin Smith over the years, and the work of the classics and history of art departments in preserving this important college treasure.”
Adds Verity Platt, curator of the Cast Collection and associate professor of classics and history of art: “The installation integrates the new Klarman Hall building and the old Goldwin Smith building in a way that really honors Cornell’s history. Klarman’s light-filled atrium is the perfect place to share the casts’ importance to research, teaching and the arts.”
Cornell’s collection of 19th-century plaster casts of ancient Greek, Roman, Egyptian and medieval pieces was compiled in the 1890s with funds from trustee Henry Sage. The ground floor of Goldwin Smith Hall was designed specifically for the Museum of Classical Archaeology, as the Cast Collection was then known, which was moved from McGraw Hall to Goldwin Smith in 1906.
“The inclusion of casts within the new humanities building acknowledges this local history while enhancing the space with dramatic visual experiences and offering exciting teaching opportunities for the humanities,” says Platt. “The casts are really dynamic objects, representing both tradition and history and their reinvention, because the casts have constantly invited new modes of engagement over the years.”
Two cleaned and restored Venus statues that served as a highlight of the “Cast and Present” show at the Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art in 2015 will also be installed in the Klarman Hall atrium. These include the Venus Colonna and the Capitoline Venus, each of them an emulation of the original Aphrodite of Knidos, supposedly the first life-size nude statue in Western culture. Conservation treatment of the Venus Colonna and Capitoline Venus, as well as the Flying Nike of Paionios, was funded by Madeleine Bennett ‘48.
Platt notes that the Venus statues offer an invaluable tool for teaching the history of gender and sexuality, ancient myth and religion, serial reproduction and the notion of the “copy,” and the reception of classical antiquity across the humanities, as well as their influence on training in the fine arts.
Also scheduled to be installed are a group of casts copied from bronzes from the Villa of the Papyri in Herculaneum, painted to look like the originals, as well as a series of friezes.
“They are wonderful for learning,” says Annetta Alexandridis, associate professor of history of art and classics, who has conserved and promoted the collection since her arrival at Cornell. “The casts are the perfect textbook in 3-D.”
The frieze restoration and installation in Klarman Hall have been made possible in part by a gift from Carolyn Levine Coplan ’76 and Neil L. Coplan ’76, in honor of their 40th class reunion and wedding anniversary, and their daughter Alison Coplan ’11, in honor of her fifth class reunion.
“We’re very grateful for their generosity,” says Platt, while acknowledging that there is still much more to be done. “This is a preliminary stage in a multiyear project to conserve, restore and display what was once one of the best cast collections in the United States. We welcome additional support for this exciting project, which has engaged numerous students as well as professional art conservators.”
Linda B. Glaser is a staff writer for the College of Arts and Sciences.