Friday, February 15, 2008

Antonio Corsi

Antonio CorsiI'm digressing from Southwestern history this week to return to my Boston roots, and tell a story about a man who was very well-known in the first quarter of the 20th century, but whom very few have heard of today. He was an artist's model (and a silent-film actor towards the end of his career) who worked in New York, Boston, and Los Angeles, among other cities, and was the most sought-after artist's model of the day.

Although he was Italian-born, his Roman nose and exotic looks made him able to pass as a Turk, a Mexican, an American Indian, and a variety of other ethnicities. He maintained a studio in New York City with hundreds of costumes and could show up as any character an artist could imagine.

If you live(d) in Boston, you will have seen Corsi in many different settings. For example, he was the model for the famous Appeal to the Great Spirit sculpture by Cyrus Dallin, which has stood on Huntington Avenue in front of the Museum of Fine Arts for 99 years.
Appeal to the Great Spirit, Cyrus Dallin, Boston
He also posed for 11 of the 16 figures in John Singer Sargent's Frieze of Prophets, which is one of the murals Sargent painted in the Boston Public Library (all of which I saw for the first time on a trip back to Boston last fall).

I encountered Corsi for the first time in the pages of a family diary from 1905. I have had this diary for years, and read it through once some time ago, but I am now transcribing it (both for posterity and for a diary reading event in April in which I'm participating) and I'm annotating the text as I go. Cynthia, the young woman writer (who was 22 at the time), was living in Boston and studying at the Eric Pape School of Art. Twice she mentions a model in class by the name of Antonio Corsi.

For example, here's her post from March 20, 1905:

Raining today; went in school. Antonio Corsi posed nude this morning, costume of pirate in afternoon.

That brief sentence intrigued me! I had to look him up, and was quite amazed to discover the level of his fame, and the prodigious amount of posing he did. Here's a photo of Corsi posing for an art class at about the same time as the diary. Imagine holding that pose for hours!
Antonio Corsi posing for art class

Pierre-Auguste Cot, The Storm, Antonio CorsiHere's another famous painting for which Corsi posed, The Storm by Pierre-Auguste Cot (owned by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC). Corsi was 11 or 12 at the time, and posed for both the male and female figures in this painting. (Look at the calves, thighs, and feet of both characters--they are almost identical.)

When I started researching Corsi, I immediately found a website dedicated to his work. Jake Gorst, owner of Jonamac Productions, is working on a documentary on Corsi, along with an exhibition of a treasure-trove of photographs (including those appearing in this post), and a book about Corsi's career. You can learn lots more about Corsi at this site--click the Multimedia tab to see all the photographs!


Anonymous said...

Hi There! Can you please contact me? - Jake Gorst

Gary Marsh said...

Hi I'm from Vermont and I bought a piece of art in a lot and found this picture of Antonio Corsi in with my stuff it is the real deal you view the art at

copy and paste to browser

what do you think something like this may be worth

Gary Marsh

SantaFeKate said...

Thanks for your post and photos, Gary. So interesting! I do know that Corsi spent time in Providence (where the picture was framed). I am not a Corsi expert; I suggest you contact Jake Gorst at's doing a film on Corsi.

Grace Davis said...

How do you know that Corsi was the model for "The Appeal to the Great Spirit"? My family believes my grandmother's uncle was the model.

Grace Davis

SantaFeKate said...

Grace--thanks for the comment! It seems to be commonly accepted knowledge that Corsi was the model; the Cyrus Dallin Art Museum (Dallin was the sculptor) discusses this on their website at, and there are numerous other sources. Family stories can sometimes be deceiving--I know this from personal experience!!!

Margaret Tibbets said...

Corsi also participated in classes taught by William Merritt Chase and Townsend in Carmel, CA. Ethel Duffy Turner mentions this in her materials at the Bancroft Library at UC Berkeley. In addition, she took photos of him posing for some of the classes she took in Carmel in the summer of 1913-1915. It appears she also introduced him to her brother at San Quentin prison, Warden Clinton Duffy, as he made an appearance there. She took photos of him there.

contact me if you are interested in more.

SantaFeKate said...

Thanks Margaret! Such interesting information--thanks for sharing. He was certainly a fascinating character!