Lawrenceville has two First World War memorials. The most famous is the Doughboy in Doughboy Square (which of course is a triangle) at the intersection of Penn Avenue and Butler Street. But this more modest memorial at the corner of Butler and 46th Street is a charming statue of Victory that would be the pride of any neighborhood that did not already possess a greater masterpiece.
This is the most breathtaking single room in the Western Hemisphere. That statement is likely to provoke some opposition, but Father Pitt is willing to defend it.
In the late nineteenth century, many museums collected plaster casts of the great monuments and sculptures of the past. The casting preserved the minutest details of the surface in three dimensions, so that a museum visitor can study every chisel mark on a famous Romanesque facade without having to hop on a steamer and travel to Europe.
In the twentieth century, the cult of originality persuaded most museum curators that these plaster casts were worthless. Almost all the great collections were broken up and thrown out. Only three of them remain in the world, and only one of them—this one—is still in the space that was built to house it, never having been shuffled from one wing to another or stored for years under a highway overpass.
Now, at last, some of the more enlightened art historians are beginning to understand the value of the casts. Here a Pittsburgher can study the whole history of Western architecture from Egypt to the Renaissance without so much as crossing the Monongahela. But even more important is the fact that these casts are more than a century old. The twentieth century, with its corrosive pollution and horrendous wars, was more destructive to ancient monuments than any other century. But here we can see exact replicas of these monuments as they were before all the corrosion and destruction. This collection is a unique cultural treasure, worth crossing a continent or an ocean to see.
The Hall of Sculpture was built in imitation of the interior of the Parthenon, with marble from the same quarry that supplied the marble for the famous Athenian temple. It was intended to house the Carnegie’s collection of plaster casts of famous sculptures, some of which still adorn the balcony, and some of which have been moved to the Hall of Architecture. On the floor below, staff are hanging transparencies from clotheslines. Why? We’ll find out when they’re done.