The Archivist’s Nook: Best of the Museum Collection on Campus

Ivory Triptych Date of Gift: 1917 Location: McMahon Hall – Room 109
Ivory Triptych
Date of Gift: 1917
Location: McMahon Hall – Room 109

Here at the Archives, keeping track of the many museum worthy art objects on The Catholic University of America campus is perhaps one of our lesser known duties. While we have written extensively about the history of the museum collection as well as several specific objects in the collection, we have long wanted to take you on a grand tour of the “Best of the Museum Collection on Campus.” It was difficult to narrow down which stops to include on this tour as there are so many treasures to find, but we selected a few of our favorites!

We’ll start at the second oldest campus building, McMahon Hall, which was dedicated in 1889 by Cardinal James Gibbons. Walking inside the foyer, one of the most iconic museum pieces at CUA is hard to miss: the heroic statue of Pope Leo XIII seated on a throne. Crowned with a tiara, the Holy Father is raising his hand in a gesture of blessing. The gift of Joseph F. Loubat, the statue was made from Carrarra marble by Guiseppi Luchetti. This statue was famous in its day; Theodore Roosevelt himself rode over to pay it a visit! In front of this imposing, 12 foot tall statue is a massive marble table, a more recently acquired museum piece whose fascinating history is told in a previous blog post.

St. Paul and Madonna and Child Statues Date of Gift: 1959 Location: Mullen Library – May Gallery
St. Paul and Madonna and Child Statues
Date of Gift: 1959
Location: Mullen Library – May Gallery

Now it’s time to make your way down the hall to room 109, the School of Arts and Sciences. In the main seating area, you’ll find a large ivory relief triptych depicting multiple Gospel scenes. Given to CUA in 1917 by Arthur Connolly, this work of art was completed in 17th century France. Ivory triptychs are rarely found at this scale, this one is unusual for its large size. Among the stories of the life of Christ told through the carved panels, you’ll find many Gothic motifs, such as elaborately carved pointed arches.

Our next stop is Caldwell Hall, the oldest building on campus. Walking through the front doors, you’ll ascend the sweeping staircase and enter Caldwell Chapel. An entire museum piece in its own right, this chapel is also home to seventeen, “Munich style” stained glass windows completed by the Royal Bavarian Art Institute between 1888 and 1890. Exiting the chapel, walk down the hall to room 111. This inconspicuous classroom is home to one of a pair of paintings given to the university in 1961 by Antony Pisani. This 126 inch long oil painting depicts the “Hunting of the Meleager,” a heroic legend of Meleager, Atalanta, Jason, and others hunting the Calydonian boar. This painting and its pair, “Dance of Nymphs” located in the third floor hallway of Caldwell, correspond to two famous paintings by Nicolas Poussin: “The Hunt of Meleager” of the Prado and “Dance in Honor of Priapus” of the Sao Paulo Museu de Arte.

Our last stop in Caldwell is on the first floor, in room 100. Known as the Monsignor Stephen P. Happel Room, this space is home to a large oil painting attributed to the Spanish Baroque artist Bartolomé Esteban Murillo. Donated in 1926, this painting was originally thought to depict St. Francis of Assisi carrying a cross. However, in recent years we have come to believe it may be San Diego de Alcala, as Saint Francis is usually shown as an older, bearded man.

“Dance of the Nymphs” Oil Painting Date of Gift: 1961 Location: Caldwell Hall – 3rd Floor Hallway
“Dance of the Nymphs” Oil Painting
Date of Gift: 1961
Location: Caldwell Hall – 3rd Floor Hallway

Let’s end our museum tour in the John K. Mullen of Denver Memorial Library. While this library is home to many statues and works of art, we’ll highlight just two in the May Gallery of the first floor. This gallery displays two French Gothic wood statues on either side of the fireplace. On the left, you’ll find a late 14th century statue of St. Paul, donated by a Miss Jesse Jebiley. On the right is a 13th century Madonna and Child, donated by Frederick Jambes. They make a wonderful pair to finish off our tour with!

For any questions about the museum collection, send us an email at lib-archives@cua.edu. For an easy to print list of all the items mentioned in this post, follow the link: Best of the Museum on Campus List

The Archivist’s Nook: If This Table Had Ears!

The Table, up close and personal, photo by Angela Geosits, 8-13-2015.
The Table, up close and personal, photo by Angela Geosits, 8-13-2015.

This week’s post is guest authored by Angela Geosits, archives assistant and doctoral student in English.

Any visitor to McMahon Hall is likely familiar with the massive marble table which dominates the central foyer. Set between the two great staircases out of the flow of foot traffic, this stately table blends in with the neutral colors of the space and feels as if it has always been there. But contrary to all expectations, this 2 ½ ton marble table is surprisingly well traveled, and even enjoyed a misspent youth loitering in the lobby of Loew’s Capitol Theatre, the last surviving Broadway vaudeville house. Some traces of this thespian origin can be seen in the detailed carvings of Comedy and Tragedy on the table’s supports.

But how on earth did our table get from a vaudeville theatre in New York City to an academic building at Catholic University in Washington, DC? The story begins in the winter of 1967, when the roof of the Army surplus theater the Drama Department had been using as their performance space collapsed under a heavy load of snow. Enthusiastic fundraising efforts began in order to fill the desperate need for a new stage. CUA Drama alumnus Ed McMahon (no relation to Monsignor James McMahon for whom the building is named) knew the Loews and organized a special benefit for the CUA Drama Department on the last night of performances at the Capitol Theatre. Continue reading “The Archivist’s Nook: If This Table Had Ears!”

The Archivist’s Nook: On McMahon’s Oldest Resident

McMahon Hall, undated photo
McMahon Hall, looking pretty timeless in this undated photo.

Good Old McMahon Hall. Built in 1892 to house the school of philosophy, arts and sciences, and the school of social sciences, this Romanesque structure has had many occupants across the last 123 years.  Sociology, biology, languages, math, a plethora of administrative offices—all have been in, out, and back again across the decades. The second building erected as part of CUA’s young campus, McMahon was made possible by a $400,000 (yes, buildings were a lot cheaper way back then) donation by Monsignor James McMahon, an Irish-born priest who had served as a New York pastor. The Monsignor lived in the building in his retirement, passing his final days there until his death in 1901 at the age of eighty-four.

McMahon would surely have had good company there, not only with the professors and students who roamed the halls and occupied the classrooms, but with Giuseppe Luchetti’s imposing Leo XIII, a 12-foot high marble statue with which Theodore Roosevelt explicitly requested an audience. Continue reading “The Archivist’s Nook: On McMahon’s Oldest Resident”