MARGARET FOLEY (1827–1877)
Marble, oval bas relief, 24 x 18 in.
Signed, dated, and inscribed (along figural truncation, at lower right): MARGARET. FOLEY. SC. ROMA 1872
RECORDED: cf. George Titus Ferris, Gems of the Centennial Exhibition … at the Philadelphia International Exhibition of 1876 (New York: D. Appleton & Company, Publishers, 1877), p7
EX COLL.: private collection, until the present
While Foley regularly inscribed her work with her name and a date, she did not commonly include the title of the piece with her ideal compositions. The present work has been identified as an 1872 version of the ideal bas-relief that Foley entitled Trasteverina. Foley exhibited Trasteverina in 1869 at the National Academy of Design in New York (recorded in the exhibition records with the garbled spelling “Trasteveima”). The composition was one of eight Foley bas-reliefs exhibited in Boston posthumously at the 1881 Exhibition of the Massachusetts Charitable Mechanic Association. Trasteverina is also one on a short list of works frequently mentioned in brief descriptions of Foley’s career.
Trastevere is an old neighborhood of Rome on the west side of the Tiber River. Originally the site of an Etruscan settlement, the area was conquered by Rome and named Trastevere derived from “trans Tiberum,” literally, “across the river.” Incorporated into the city since the reign of Augustus (27 BCE–14 CE), Trastevere was included inside the city wall built to repel the invasion of German tribes during the reign of Aurelien (270–275 CE). During the middle ages, the neighborhood developed the narrow and winding streets that still characterize it today. Trastevere is noted for the ivy and flowers cascading from window boxes and covering the walls of its old houses. Foley’s bas-relief of a classical beauty in profile wears a garland of ivy leaves circling her around her bare shoulders and punctuated with a flower at her breast. Absent any photographs, illustrations, or contemporary descriptions that would firmly identify this relief as Foley’s Trasteverina, the botanical iconography has been the basis for the identification of this subject.
Trasteverina was specifically mentioned near the very beginning of George Titus Ferris’s encyclopedic review of the Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition. Ferris, illustrating Foley’s centerpiece fountain in the Horticultural Hall, described the sculptor as having “gained a wide-spread reputation for medallion portraits, and for several very beautiful ideals bass-relief [sic], of which ‘Undine’ and the ‘Girl of Trastevere’ are among the most admired.”