"Madam, Your Mother Craves A Word With You"
Overall: 19 3/4 x 18 x 12 in. ( 50.2 x 45.7 x 30.5 cm )
signed: proper right top of base: "JOHN ROGERS/NEW YORK" inscribed: top back of base: "PATENTED AUG. 3 1866." inscribed: "ROMEO JULIET NURSE"
Rogers contemplated the plays of Shakespeare as a potential subject from the earliest years of his professional career. In 1861 he wrote of his plans for a series and assayed a handful of such themes into 1862, including one titled The Merchant of Venice, which he showed at the National Academy of Design (to his dismay, it went unnoticed). No examples of these early groups survive. Nearly twenty years passed before the Bard resurfaced in Rogers' work. The sculptor created an acclaimed series of groups that included "Is It So Nominated in the Bond?" (1936.659, 1926.37) from The Merchant of Venice; The Wrestlers (1936.645, 1926.37) from As You Like It; "Ha! I Like Not That" (1936.658, 1929.108) from Othello; and "You Are a Spirit, I Know: When Did You Die?" (1936.646, 1932.99, 1948.413) from King Lear. He concluded with this work from Romeo and Juliet. The play intertwines elements of comedy and tragedy, and Rogers turned to a moment of flirtation and courtship, as he had done successfully in numerous other sculptures. However, viewers knew the romance's tragic end, giving this early scene particular tension and poignancy. He chose the moment from act 1, scene 5, when the young lovers first meet at a masked ball at the Capulet house. Romeo has come in the disguise of a palmer, that is, a religious pilgrim. He wears a rough cloak over his courtly clothing, as well as prayer beads and a bag bearing a scallop shell, a medieval symbol of pilgrimage. He has just kissed Juliet's hand and lifts his mask to make himself known to her. Lovely Juliet gazes at him intently as she is bodily pulled away by her nurse, who has an arm around her waist and holds her hand. A master of texture and detail, Rogers created a stark contrast between Juliet's smooth, fresh hand and the elderly nurse's wrinkled and veined one. The nurse is modestly dressed and, like Romeo, wears prayer beads; hers, however, are not part of a costume but a symbol of her genuine piety. This sculpture is more intimately composed than Rogers' previous Shakespearean groups, lacking any indication of a setting. Rather than using a rectangular base as he had done for other Shakespearean groups to create an enlarged, stagelike space, Rogers chose an oval base that reduces the space between the figures. Romeo even leans over, placing himself at the women's height. Juliet is pressed against the nurse, and the open space between her and Romeo, which will grow as she is pulled away, suggests the distance between them; soon after this moment each discovers the other's identity as a bitter enemy. Nineteenth-century Americans were more familiar with the works of Shakespeare than we are today, and many New Yorkers would have remembered the elaborate version of Romeo and Juliet mounted at the spectacular Booth Theater in 1869. Edwin Booth and his soon-to-be wife, Mary F. McVicker, played the title roles to an incredibly successful six-week run. The play's popularity in New York continued for years; it was presented nearly every year in the city throughout the 1870s and 1880s.
Articles, Scrapbooks of miscellaneous clippings, etc. about John Rogers, Vol. 4, New York Historical Society. Smith, Mrs. and Mrs. Chetwood, Rogers Groups: Thought and Wrought by John Rogers, Boston: Charles E. Goodspeed & Co., 1934, pp.94-5. Baker, Charles E., "John Rogers As He Depicted American Literature," American Collector, Vol. 13, No. 10, pp. 10-1, 16. Wallace, David H., John Rogers, The People's Sculptor, Middleton, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 1967, pp. 109, 253, 294. Bleier, Paul and Meta, John Rogers Statuary, Atglen, PA: Schiffer Publishing Ltd., 2001, pp. 194-5.
Gift of Mr. Samuel V. Hoffman
Due to ongoing research, information about this object is subject to change.