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Diana of the Fellowship House

Posted On February 26, 2015 | 14:45 pm | by jessicas | Permalink
Jan Ziolkowski, Arthur Kingsley Porter Professor of Medieval Latin, Harvard University, and Director of Dumbarton Oaks

The Fellowship House, at 1700 Wisconsin Avenue, opened its doors to the research fellows in December of 2014. Among the many works (photographs, casts, and prints) that grace its new spaces, the bust of Diana in the Garden Room boasts the richest history, with three strong connections that tie her past, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, to her present and future, at Dumbarton Oaks in Washington, D.C.

A first nexus can be traced to E. K. Rand (1871–1945), Pope Professor of Latin at Harvard, and Widener D, an out-of-the-way place on the top floor of Widener Memorial Library under the jurisdiction of the Classics department. Once designated “The Palaeography Room,” the space initially housed a project, overseen by Rand, to edit the Virgil commentary by Servius. Rand had a strong bond with Dumbarton Oaks in its earliest years and directed the first Byzantine Studies symposium (then known as the Byzantine Seminary) in 1941.

No one knows how our bust of Diana—a nineteenth-century Carrara marble replica of the famous Diana of Versailles, itself a Roman copy of an original Greek sculpture of the Huntress—reached Widener D, although it is tempting to imagine that Rand played a role. She must have surveyed the room serenely for most of the twentieth century, but by the 1980s her stand had collapsed and she lay sadly on the floor as a trip hazard. Apart from not having lost her nose, she seemed to have suffered the same fate as befell many ancient statues after the decline of ancient Rome.

When Dumbarton Oaks was granted the opportunity by the President and Fellows of Harvard College to build the Fellowship House, colleagues in Classics allowed me to rescue the marble damsel in distress from her undignified plight. She was transported from Massachusetts to D.C. and underwent careful restoration. (Read about the restoration here.)

Now Diana has been rendered resplendently smooth and white. The moonlike coloration befits the deity. In Roman mythology, Diana is the moon goddess. She is also divinity of hunting and childbirth. Lastly, and here we come to the second link with our institution, one particular kind of place was especially sacred to Diana: oak groves. The Fellowship House may front on busy Wisconsin Street, but it belongs to Dumbarton Oaks. Thus Diana’s distinguishing tree and ours are the very same.

Chaste Diana was not merely the Roman equivalent to the Greek goddess Artemis but also much more. Her greatest fame arises from the myth of Actaeon, recounted most influentially by Ovid in his Metamorphoses. In this episode the young hunter by this name happens unintentionally to see Diana as she is naked and bathing. Out of embarrassment and anger, she transforms him into a deer that is soon slain by his own hunting dogs. Dumbarton Oaks has two representations of Diana and Actaeon, one by the swimming pool and the other (incongruously) in the dining hall known as the Refectory.

At the outset you were promised three intersections between Diana and Dumbarton Oaks. The final one is that our divisional dean of the humanities in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences is none other than Diana Sorensen. I hope that she will regard our piece of lovely statuary, a generous export from a sister library and closely related classicists, as her proxy to watch over our well-being more than four hundred miles away. Together we will make common cause for the humanities, as Dumbarton Oaks and Harvard’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences have done for seventy-five years now.