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It’s not very often that one encounters an appealing, whimsical piece of sculpture that reflects a broadly philosophical medical subject. One in particular, which has been in existence for about a hundred years, is rather interesting, but little has been known about it, and the sculptor, until recently. The Boston Medical Library is but one of a number of libraries where you just might meet this diminutive bronze monkey. In Scotland, you may see a copy long treasured by Aberdeen’s Medico-Chirurgical Society, and the Royal College of Surgeons in Edinburgh owns one. Canadians may be able to study the figure in the Medical Library of Queen’s University, Kingston, Ontario. Perhaps as many as six or eight of the bronzes remain in private hands.

Statuesof the period were generally allegorical and/or interpretations of beauty, or simply intended for commemoration or decoration (often being incorporated into other structures such as buildings or important pieces of furniture). Actually, little is known of the circumstances that led the sculptor to fashion this particular piece. Its earliest known form is a solid cast bronze fur-covered primate rubbing his chin, as he contemplates a human skull he is holding. Perhaps he’s smiling, bemused. The ape is seated on a loose pile of a dozen books, "DARWIN.HB" on the spine of one, "ERITIS SICUT DEUS" [see note at end] * across the page of another. The statuette is hand-finished with the addition of a caliper which is held in the right foot, itself being clasped by its opposite. Signed "Rheinhold", this earliest example is bolted to a low red-brown stone disc 12cm diameter and 2 cm high. The piece stands 18.5 cm overall, and was cast by H. Gladenbeck & Sohn, a Berlin firm.

Very few of the bronzes can now be located, though one was auctioned in Cologne in 1996. There is a photograph of the late Nikolai Lenin in which one is seen on his desk. It had been bought in London by Armand Hammer in 1922 as a gift for the Soviet leader, and as recently as 1991 it was still on that desk, in the Kremlin. Plaster copies and images occasionally turn up. One was used for the cover of the Bulletin of Ward’s Natural Science Establishment (Rochester NY) in 1953. The monkey appeared in W. C. Osman Hill’s book Man’s Ancestors, as it did in Vernon Reynolds’ [Rheinhold's - an interesting coincidence] The Apes. Famed anthropologist W. E. LeGros Clark owned a photograph of the subject. During the past couple of years, a version of the theme about a foot high and rather lacking in detail has been available in the USA.

Biographical information can be found in a number of places, but until now it has been sketchy at best. Wolfgang Hugo Rheinhold was born in northwestern Germany on 26 March 1853, in Oberlahnstein, on the Rhine. Cities not very distant are Koblenz, Frankfurt and Wetzlar. He was the son of Rheinhold Seligmann and his second wife, Josephine Ass. They were Jews born in Lahnstein and Cologne, respectively. (Seligmann’s first wife had been Karoline Lippman, d. c1850.) It is a curious fact that on the birth certificate, the name Seligmann is scored out and replaced with the father’s "more German" given name. A pencil notation on the back of the certificate is significant, noting that our subject was a Jew. It is necessary to know something about the status of Jews in Germany before WW2. It seems clear that some degree of persecution occurred throughout the nineteenth century. This is suggested by studying population figures of school age children in various communities during the 1850s and 1860s.

Investigation by Willi Eisenbarth of the Stadt Archiv Lahnstein provided background about the family. In 1854, the Rheinholds (Seligmanns) were prosperous. They owned a two-story house on High Street, a fruit shop in Weissengasse, and a garden of two acres. However, by 1857 they had sold all their possessions. It is not known what circumstances occurred that brought this about. Was there illness, or debt; or had the Seligmanns made the decision to liquidate their assets and move elsewhere? No record has yet been discovered to cast light on their lives in these years.Later, the family did move to Hamburg, where the father became an ironmonger. Hugo would presumably succeed him in the business. But trade was bad, and Hugo had met a lovely girl, so he set off to America to find his fortune.

He lived as a tradesman in San Francisco from 1874 to 1879, and then returned to Hamburg to start a business and marry. However, after but a year of happy marriage, his wife died. In despair, Hugo gave up his business and went to Berlin to study Philosophy.

Of Other works by Rheinhold, not a great deal is known. Art became Rheinhold’s vocation only after around 1886. He made plans for formal training, and studied sculpture from 1888-1892 at the Berlin Academy where he was a pupil of Max Kruse and also of Ernst Herter. During this time he visited Italy as well. The first known piece of his work, which achieved great acclaim, was shown at the Great Exhibition in Berlin in 1892. This was the small bronze statue of the ape contemplating a human skull. The firm of Gladenbeck took over sales and produced several variations of this objet d’art, and in addition, in 1899, one of a group of "Lesende Monche" (monks reading). In 1896, the Berlin National Gallery bought and exhibited a life-size marble, "Am Wege", and in the same year a bronze group called "Dynamite in the Service of Mankind" was executed in honor of Alfred Nobel and exhibited in the Nobelhof. Rheinhold sculpted one other large marble and a number of smaller pieces. Only one piece of portraiture by Rheinhold is known, a bust of August Bebel (1840-1913), the Cologne-born leader in Socialism.

Obituary text in the 2 October 1901 issue of a Berlin magazine reads as follows.

    "There died here today, after a long and painful illness, the creator of the magnificent work in marble, "Am Wege"..... in the National Gallery. A brokenhearted woman stands at the foot of a crucifix: she carries a sleeping child. It is one of the most beautiful and moving of the treasures that our National Gallery possesses. Anyone seeing it will not easily forget it."

Apart from a more decorative group "Dynamite in the Service of Mankind" which was exhibited in a dealer’s shop in Hamburg and the larger work shown here [in Berlin] this summer of a group around a well, "Am Wege" is the only great work this sculptor has produced. The sculpture is of a Roman, with suicidal thoughts as he contemplates his sword, carrying the meaningful words, "ferrum sanat", which was exhibited here some years ago, is only a model for what was to be "Die Kämpfer" [The Warriors], a protest against anti-Semitism."

Alas, these works have not so far been traced!

NOTES ON THE INSCRIPTIONS:

The Latin, ERITIS SICUT DEUS, is taken from the Bible (Genesis, III,5). The serpent is enticing Eve to eat of the apple tree (against the Lord’s command), promising "And ye shall be as god [knowing good and evil]". The phrase appears later in Part I of Goethe’s Faust, which was published in 1808 and likely held it in Rheinhold’s mind. Goethe (1749-1832), incidentally, spent a great deal of time in the general part of Germany where Rheinhold grew up, and it’s a little known fact that he devoted much of his later years not to poetry but to natural history.

DARWIN (1809-1882), son of a physician (and cousin of another, Francis Galton), published Origin of Species in 1859. Rheinhold was then a child, and his family perhaps experiencing hard times. It is not too well known that Darwin described the theory he formulated around 1844 (and a later one by Alfred Russel Wallace), in correspondence with Asa Gray in Cambridge (Massachusetts) about two years before Origin’s publication.

FURTHER READING:

Note: There really seems to be little, which is how this piece happens to be here. A number of people have noted a similarity between Rheinhold's monkey and "The Thinker" (Auguste Rodin, 1840-1917). It would be interesting to research possible connections between these two talented individuals.

Hammer, Armand (1897-1990) (with Neil Lyndon) Hammer (In Chapter 10 there is an account of the statue Hammer gave to Lenin.)


Prepared by Roberta Gordon Morgan, M. A. (Hons), & Dr. Adam G. N. Moore (1 Dec 98) agnm@massmed.org