In 1864, the colossal (technically speaking, twice life-size) bronze statue of Thomas Hart Benton, residing currently in Lafayette Park, was cast by Ferdinand Miller at the Royal Metal Foundry of Munich in Bavaria.
This grand giant, the first public monument in Missouri, was the product of a rightly famed sculptress, Harriet Hosmer, who has been profiled in an earlier essay: https://lafayettesquare.org/1868-the-artist-the-philanthropist-and-the-mad-doctor/
In November of 2018, the Lafayette Park Conservancy will be observing the 150th anniversary of the Benton statue’s dedication. While walking around the site, I noticed an inscription on the base of the statue: “Ferd Miller
Munchen”. So began the Googling.
Ferdinand Miller (1813 – 1887) was a bronze man with a fine pedigree. In 1825 his uncle had established the state foundry in Munich. Ferdinand studied foundry craft in Paris, England and the Netherlands, returning to Munich where he assumed his late uncle’s role.
The key event for the Royal Foundry, and for Miller, was the commissioning of a statue of Bavaria for the city of Munich by Ludwig I. No ordinary work, it was the first colossal statue in modern times to be made entirely of cast bronze.
Thomas Hart Benton stands ten feet tall, but Bavaria, cast over a six year period from 1844 – 1850 stands over 60 feet high and weighs nearly 90 tons. It also features a spiral staircase and four viewing ports in her crown.
Ferdinand worked with the four major sections (head, bust, hips and lower half) and numerous smaller components over the following four years. In 1848, Ludwig was forced to abdicate the throne, and Maximillian, his successor, had troubles raising the funds to continue. Miller himself made up the shortfall, causing him serious financial problems. Though funding eventually came through, Miller wasn’t compensated for much of what he’d contributed. The product of his efforts was so successful, however, that he enjoyed a lifetime of commissions, and the foundry remained in business, producing over 100 bronze works worldwide, until the 1930s.
For the metal heads out there, the preferred casting composition for colossal bronze statuary by the Royal Metals Foundry in Munich was 92% copper, 5% zinc, 2% tin, and 1% lead. It’s fairly safe to assume that this would be similar to the composition of Thomas Hart Benton, even if we do sometimes refer to him as “Old Bullion”.
Ferdinand married in 1840 and raised 14 children, including Ferdinand
Freiherr von Miller (literally, Ferdinand the Younger). He fell right in line at the foundry, and became a noted founder, sculptor and painter in his own right.
The installation of the Benton statue in Lafayette Park inspired Henry Shaw to follow suit in Tower Grove Park. Appreciating the scale and quality of the casting, Henry Shaw struck up a relationship with Ferdinand. He invited him to St Louis and they met in 1871. Henry turned to Ferd the
Younger for colossal statues of Alexander von Humboldt, William Shakespeare (1878), and Christopher Columbus (1886). A lover of music, he also commissioned marble busts of his favorite composers, and called on Ferdinand to provide those of Beethoven and Wagner (1884). All are still in Tower Grove Park today. His enthusiasm for von Miller’s work carried right to Shaw’s end. In 1882, he entrusted Ferdinand to carve the mausoleum portrait for his tomb in the Missouri Botanical Garden. He personally posed for the sculptor. It was the final work of art Henry Shaw would commission, and a fine tribute to the close connection between St Louis and the von Millers.
Please stay tuned to lafayettesquare.org for more details from the Lafayette Park Conservancy on our observance of ten years since a major restoration of, and 150 years since the original dedication of the Thomas Hart Benton colossus in Lafayette Park.
Note: The “von” in the name von Miller signified elevation to a barony. (They did alright)
Thanks to Research Sources Including:
Catholic Encyclopedia Vol 10; Gerhard Gietmann; 1913
Wikipedia for photos of both von Millers
Museum Without Walls by culture Now http://culturenow.org/entry&permalink=08913&seo=Beethoven_Ferdinand-von-Miller-II-St-Louis-Regional-Arts-Commission-RAC-and-Tower-Grove-Park
stlenergized.blogspot.com for photo of Columbus
Library of Congress for photo of Shaw Mausoleum