At over four feet in height each, the Fourteen Carrara Marble Stations of the Cross Plaques (Lot 589) to be auctioned in Skinner’s European Furniture & Decorative Arts Auction on July 14th, make a commanding statement as an ensemble. Heavily carved, the marbles are realistically modeled in high relief, depicting the series of events on the day of Jesus Christ’s crucifixion, each inscribed with station number to the projecting base. The marbles were originally installed in the Immaculate Conception Church, South End, Boston. This church was dedicated on March 10, 1861, by Bishop Fitzpatrick as a place of worship for Boston College. While the building was designed by architect, Patrick Charles Keely, the interior design of the church was considered to be the work of Arthur Gilman. It was used as the church for Boston College High School from 1863 until the 1960s and served the pastoral needs of the surrounding neighborhoods in the South End. Renovations took place in the church in 1961, in the 1980s in order to have worship, gathering space, and offices for the Jesuit staff, and again in the early 1990s when the former Jesuit residence was converted into apartments for Boston University medical students. The last mass in the church was held on July 29th, 2007. The building was sold in 2013 and is now slated to be used as a residential space.
Clearly the work of a highly-skilled sculptor, the plaques were probably done by the studio of German-born Joseph Sibbel. Sibbel was often employed by Patrick Charles Keely to work on various marble sculptures, altars, and a number of plaster Stations of the Cross for Keely-designed churches. A small handful of marble Stations of the Cross are also known to have been executed by Joseph Sibbel, who was born June 7, 1850, in Dulmen, Germany. In Germany, he studied under wood carver Friedrich A. Ewertz and sculptor Theodore William Achtermann, then emigrated to America in 1871, settling first in Ohio and then moving to New York City in 1881. Arguably Sibbel’s most important commission was creating numerous sculptures for St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York. In Amesbury, Massachusetts, St. Joseph’s Church, an Italian marble altar as well as polychrome-decorated plaster Stations of the Cross were executed by Joseph Sibbel and installed in the main church in June 1892, and can still be seen today.
Joseph Sibbel’s work was highly regarded during his time, and he did many commissions for Catholic churches throughout America that drew attention during a period of remarkable growth for newly built liturgical architecture overall. A brief mention of Joseph Sibbel’s “The Last Supper” in the bulletin for the Christian Advocate in March 1900, noted that the Architectural League of New York’s Fifteenth Annual Exhibition had the artist’s work “placed too high, but was full of interest.” The artist at that time would have maintained a studio at 214 East 26th Street, New York. Just three years later, in 1903, Sibbel began having health issues and he steadfastly pushed through working on a multitude of commissions during his last few years. In 1906, a year before his death, he took one last trip to Europe to purchase materials for two projects, one in New York and one in the Midwest. He passed away on July 10, 1907, from pneumonia. A 1907 article in the Messenger written upon the artist’s death lauded the extraordinary quality of his work, his attention to detail and unusual handling of forms, noting in his recent sculptures for St. Paul Cathedral in Pittsburgh: “…the sculptor abolished all conventional forms and aimed to portray historical life-like characters, true in every detail to the traditions and customs of their times.”
Sibbel purportedly wished to have all of his models and all of his works in his workshop destroyed after his passing, however, the head of his studio worked with the artist’s wife to gain permission and ensure the continuation of the studio 50 years after Sibbel’s death.
The Stations of the Cross Plaques featured in Skinner’s July 14th auction will be available for preview by appointment in the Marlborough, MA Gallery. Contact the department to arrange a preview by phone 508.970.3203 or by email firstname.lastname@example.org.