FALGUIÈRE, Jean Alexandre Joseph
(b. 1831, Toulouse, d. 1900, Paris)

Saint Tarcisius

c. 1868
Marble, 60 x 132 x 51 cm
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Tarcisius was a Roman boy, an acolyte in an early Christian church, who was attacked by jeering pagans on the Appian Way as he carried the eucharistic bread from the catacombs to condemned prisoners in the city. He chose to die rather than surrender the host to unbelievers.

The plaster version of this statue was exhibited at the Salon of 1867, after Falguière's return from Italy, where he studied at the Académie de France in Rome. During his stay in Rome, when he may have conceived the subject, he obviously saw the famous Baroque sculpture by Stefano Maderno of another early Christian martyr, St Cecilia (Santa Cecilia in Trastevere, Rome). By repute, the statue depicts the saint lying in the same position as her body was when it was discovered, and the poignant simplicity of the marble rendering of its subject was an example a nineteenth-century sculptor could not ignore.

The first version of the statue (Musée d'Orsay, Paris) was commissioned by the state, and it won the medal of honour at the Salon of 1868. The second version with small modifications (now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York) was kept by the sculptor for himself.