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Moses Ezekiel

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My Talk to the John Hunt Morgan SCV Camp

SCV Camp on December 11, 2010

Good Morning. I am Nancy Hitt and the subject of my talk this morning is a Jewish American sculptor who spent the last 40 years of his life living in Rome, Italy.

Most of you who are in attendance here today probably know something about the life of Moses Ezekiel, as he was one of the young Cadets at VMI who Confederate Gen. John C. Breckinridge brought forward in order to fill a gap in his lines during the Battle of New Market, Virginia, on May 15, 1864.

You have probably read that Moses Ezekiel became an artist and is buried in Arlington Cemetery at the base of the Confederate Soldiers’ Memorial which he had designed.

That is about all I actually knew about Moses Ezekiel until this October when an Italian Confederate descendant by the name of Peter Rossi contacted me. Peter has been quite active in honoring Confederates and their European allies buried across Europe.

In April, SCV Europe Camp #1612 organized a memorial service and a Cross of Honor grave marking with Peter’s help for Thomas Jefferson Page and Thomas Jefferson Page, Jr., father and son who are buried in the Non-Catholic Cemetery in Rome.

In an e-mail to several individuals, Peter requested information about the exact location of Moses Ezekiel’s residence in Rome and his Roman burial site. I am sure that Peter is doing this research in order to plan a future Confederate ceremony honoring Ezekiel, a former long-time resident artist of Rome.

Peter lives in Lucca, Italy, which is outside of Rome; therefore, he enlisted an American, Susan Whitman Fiorentino, who lives in Rome to make this research one of her first UDC projects.

As you may have read on the John Hunt Morgan Camp listserver, I sent out a request for any information that your members might have about Ezekiel. Mr. Leland Bell responded to that request. Mr. Bell is a former John Hunt Morgan camp member and a graduate of VMI. He gave me valuable information and advice.

This is the message from Mr. Bell to me: “Hi Nancy. According to the bio in the New Market book he resided in his studio in the Baths of Diocletian for thirty years until the city wanted it back. He was then given the tower of Belisario on the Pincian Hill overlooking the Borghese Gardens. He took a studio and work rooms in the Via Faustus just off the Piazza Populo. Hope this may help. You can also contact the VMI museum. They have a great exhibit on Sir Moses. Regards, Leland.”

I took Mr. Bell’s advice and telephoned Ms. Diane Jacob, the Archivist at VMI. She generously answered some important questions for me. Yes, his long-term studio was in the Baths of Diocletian, and he was forced to move to a studio in the Tower of Belisario located on the Roman walls.

Ms. Jacob sent me the following material along with an extract from a lengthy letter written in English by Adolfo de Bosis’ wife to Ezekiel’s sister, Hannah, after his death. The fact that Ezekiel had been buried in the de Bosis crypt was found in various reports, but we still did not know his connection to this particular family.

It seemed likely that the de Bosis family was Catholic and the question remained of how a Jew would have been allowed to be buried in a Catholic Cemetery. We even considered the possibility that he was later moved into a Jewish Cemetery.

Ms. Diane Jacob of VMI sent me the follow reply:

In response to our telephone inquiry yesterday, I have the following information from our records.

Correspondence Ezekiel to VMI from the 1911 to 1917 period shows a return address of No 2 Via Campania, Torre di Belisario, Rome.

The only account we have of the temporary burial site is from an essay called “Moses Jacob Ezekiel” by Rabbi David Philipson, published by the American Jewish Historical Society, No. 28, 1922. It contains the transcription of a letter from Ezekiel’s good friend Lilian de Bosis (Mrs. Adolfo de Bosis) to his sister Hannah E. Workum in Cincinnati, in which she describes his last days. The letter is dated April 4, 1917. There is every indication in this that the vault was the only burial place before the move to Arlington, and that this temporary site was chosen carefully and because of Ezekiel’s connections to the de Bosis family.

“…It was then decided to place him temporarily in the vault which he had himself built for the Family of Adolfo de Bosis in the city cemetery of San Lorenzo at Varnis. There our little son Manlio and Adolfo’s brother Arturo, whom he had so dearly loved and cherished, awaited him…I am confident that not having left any instructions as to religious rites, simply stating he wished to be buried in the Southern Soldiers’ Cemetery, with the Masonic rites, we succeeded in interpreting the true spirit of his religious feeling essentially Jewish, yet appreciative of the beauty and helpfulness in all other religions…We simply felt that here his friends should gather round him and express each in their own way, their love and devotion. So a young rabbi from the Roman synagogue recited the ritual prayers on the day of his death; Catholic friends prayed by his side in their own way; Mr. Nathan representing the Free Masons and his Jewish friends, Mr. Lowrie his numerous Protestant friends. We wanted the rabbi to accompany the hearse to the cemetery, but that it seemed he could not do.”

This information actually answered both of Peter Rossi’s questions. The letter records his exact mailing address and gave a name to the cemetery where Ezekiel was buried. It also related that Moses Ezekiel had been the designer of the de Bosis crypt.

Adolfo de Bosis was a famous Italian poet married to an American wife, Lilian Vernon, who was the daughter of a Methodist minister. Moses Ezekiel and the de Bosis family were close friends over many years. This letter written by an American woman answered important questions, but the name of the cemetery was still vague and it needed to be identified.

Susan in Rome has been dedicated to finding that cemetery and the de Bosis crypt and it was only recently located due to her diligence. Clearly, Ezekiel had always stated his desire to be buried at Arlington. I believe this is the reason he was allowed to be buried in the de Bosis crypt in the Catholic Cemetery of Verano since his burial was always considered to be temporary and he was a well-known and highly respected artist of his day.

Moses Ezekiel died on March 27, 1917, during World War I and this is likely the reason his remains were not moved until 1921. His funeral service at Arlington Cemetery was the first ever to be held in the Memorial Amphitheater.

Moses Jacob Ezekiel was born in Richmond, Virginia, on October 28, 1844. He was the sixth of fourteen children born to Jacob and Catherine de Castro Ezekiel.

According to Ms. Jacob at VMI, Moses Ezekiel is the first recorded Jewish Cadet at VMI. He served as a Sergeant of Company C of Cadets. In spite of the fact that Yankees burned most of VMI, studies were able to continue in the Richmond Almshouse which allowed Moses Ezekiel to graduate in 1866.

He followed his graduation from VMI with the study of anatomy at the Medical College of Virginia. Ezekiel moved to Cincinnati in 1868 to study art. In 1869, he traveled to Berlin, Germany, where he studied at the Royal Academy of Art. He was admitted into the Society of Artists in Berlin and was the first foreigner to win the Prize of Rome based upon his bust of Washington.

Ezekiel spent the remainder of his life in Rome. He was a prolific artist and produced some 200 works of statuary. Ezekiel created busts of Lizst, Eve, Homer, David, Christ in the Temple and Robert E. Lee. One of the many honors he received was to be knighted by the King of Italy.

Today, I wish to talk about several of his works closer to home. Our own Bill Hayes sent me some Bernheim family material to help in my research.

The Brothers Isaac and Bernard Bernheim were German Jewish immigrants to Kentucky. They made their fortune in whiskey distilling and were very philanthropic. They donated the 14,000 acre Bernheim Forest to the people of Kentucky. They commissioned the Abraham Lincoln statue in front of the Louisville Free Public Library on York Street. Oh well….

The Bernheim brothers were responsible for the Thomas Jefferson statue that stands in front of the Jefferson County Court House at 5th and Jefferson Streets. They commissioned Moses Ezekiel to design this magnificent bronze work of art.

Ezekiel designed Thomas Jefferson standing upon the liberty bell holding a copy of the Declaration of Independence. Jefferson is surrounded by four symbolic winged female figures while the base is inscribed with Jefferson’s own words. It was completed in 1901.

In 1910 a reproduction was cast for the University of Virginia at Charlottesville, Virginia, without the Jefferson inscriptions engraved upon the base.

Edna Macon of Owensboro informed me of another Ezekiel work located in Kentucky. Ezekiel was the architect for the Confederate Memorial Gateway at the Hickman Cemetery.

There is so much more that can be said about Sir Moses Ezekiel and his work as a sculptor, but this brief presentation is not able to cover all of his many accomplishments. Books and the internet contain additional information for the curious among you.

I want to especially thank Raphael Waldburg-Zeil for his encouragement in this project. He is the editor of the European SCV newsletter and co-editor of the S.C. SCV division newsletter.

I hope you all will take a closer look at my poster board which contains photographs of the two different Thomas Jefferson bronze statues, the Hickman Gateway, and Ezekiel’s famous statue of Stonewall Jackson at VMI.

I have included two photographs taken by Susan of the Adolfo de Bosis crypt at the Verano Cemetery. Unfortunately, the crypt which was designed by Ezekiel and was his first resting place is badly in need of cleaning and repair.

Also you will find a photo of Ezekiel as a young VMI cadet and his Arlington grave marker under the Confederate Soldiers’ Memorial which he designed.

The next time you are arrested and taken in ball and chains past the Court House, just ignore your predicament and remember that unreconstructed rebel who designed our own Thomas Jefferson bronze work of art. Many thanks and God Save the South!
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