The Story of Telfair Academy’s Iconic Sculptures
If these statues could talk, oh the stories they would tell…
In 1883, Carl Brandt was given $20,000 cash and a ticket to Europe to acquire the art for a brand-new museum in Savannah. Located in the former mansion of one of Savannah’s most prominent families, this new museum was to be called the Telfair Academy of Arts and Sciences.
Brandt’s purse was still well lined when he arrived in Vienna to visit the studio of Victor Tilgner, one of the best sculptors of the period. Taken by the artist’s work, Brandt ordered five sculptures of great artists to put in front of the new museum in Savannah. All of the sculptures were to be seven feet, six inches high. They were to be made of marzano, a hard limestone from the town of the same name.
The steamship City of Savannah arrived in its namesake port in the fall of 1884 with the first two statues–Phidias, and Michelangelo–soon followed by Rubens, Rembrandt, and Raphael. They were situated in the front of the building to enhance the mansion’s elegant façade and to announce to visitors that this was no longer a private home–they were indeed entering a temple of the arts!
These five gracious figures were in place for the grand opening of the Telfair Academy of Arts and Sciences on May 3, 1886. Many dignitaries, including former President of the Confederacy Jefferson Davis, attended the grand affair. Today, the sculptures have stood proudly in front of Telfair Academy for more than 125 years, welcoming millions of visitors through the front doors to experience the Victorian vision of what a temple of the arts should be. Some of Savannah’s most famous citizens have danced in its awe-inspiring rotunda, from Johnny Mercer to Jim Williams, each of them welcomed through the front doors by Tilgner’s statues.