NOTE: This post was first published in my other blog, choosing-santa-fe.blogspot.com, on February 15, 2008.
This is 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.
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. 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!
Here'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!