Catholic Encyclopedia (1913)/Joseph Sibbel

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Sculptor, b. at Dulmen, 7 June, 1850; d. in New York, 10 July, 1907. As a boy he evinced the inclination for cutting ornaments and figures from wood, which attracted the attention of his teacher, who urged the parents of the boy to send him to Munster, Westphalia. At the establishment of the wood carver, Friedrich A. Ewertz, Sibbel developed a genius for ecclesiastical sculpture. He spent his leisure time in visiting the studio of the sculptor Achterman, where he acquired the art of modeling in clay. In 1873 he emigrated to Cincinnati, Ohio. Here he joined several other artists from the same workshop, who had established an atelier for ecclesiastical sculpture, mostly in wood. When this enterprise failed, he tried his hand at secular sculpture with a certain Rebisso. When this establishment also failed, Sibbel came to New York, where he established the studio from which issued his many works. Here the difficult task confronted him of competing with the mechanical manufacture of pseudo-art with which the churches were being filled, and which gave them a stereotyped and monotonous decoration. To emulate foreign ecclesiastical decoration was his aim. His first work in New York was a lectern, cast in bronze, for the Episcopal Stewart Memorial Cathedral in Garden City, Long Island. Here the young artist broke loose from the ordinary form by placing religious groups in front of the stand. Below the customary eagle with spread wings he designed an upright figure of the Saviour blessing a group at His feet. The sermon desk proper he adorned with a symbolical group of three figures, typifying youth, maturity, and age, listening to the word of God from above.

It was not until he furnished for the cathedral at Hartford, Connecticut, a series of alto-relievos, prominent among which was an altar picture representing the Child Christ disputing with the Scribes in the temple, that the Catholic churches began to appreciate him. These and a series of Stations of the Cross were cast in imitation alabaster, and attracted great attention. Still more admirable was his colossal statue of Archbishop Feehan of Chicago. His works showed complete emancipation from the conventionality of the cloister-art of modern times. His best-known work is the heroic and delicately wrought statue of St. Patrick in St. Patrick's Cathedral, New York. Here also are to be found his statues of St. Anselmo, St. Bernard of Clairvaux, St. Alphonsus Liguori, and St. Bonaventure.

The two heroic panels, representing "Our Lady Comforter of the Afflicted" and "The Death of St. Joseph", erected in the Church of St. Francis Xavier at St. Louis, are of unique conception. These groups, each twelve feet high and eight feet wide, were carved from one blook weighing nearly nine tons. The four heroic statues at St. Joseph's Seminary, Dunwoodie, New York, must be classed as the final step in his emancipation from conventionality. These figures represent Father Jogues, S.J., the martyred apostle of the Mohawk Indians; St. Rose of Lima, the first canonized saint of the New World; St. Turibius; and Catherine Tagawitha, the Indian maiden, and first convert of the Indian race. In these statues the artist ventured on a new path in religious sculpture, portraying typical American subjects. Among his latest works was the exterior and interior statuary decoration of St. Paul's Cathedral in Pittsburgh. Among these statues are represented the Apostles and Doctors of the Church, executed in Indian lime-stone. In the conception of each statue there is expressed a new idea. Most noteworthy is the marble-statue representing Purgatory. Here the artist represents in two figures a very complex idea. Out of the flames of torture there rises a female figure, symbolical of a liberated soul casting off the veil of darkness and beholding the light of eternal reward. Below, there appears a still afflicted soul, represented by a wan male figure imploring intercession. Characteristic of Sibbel's works is the pleasing tendency toward freedom from conventionality. They evince originality of design, though still in accord with history and tradition. His statues are pervaded by a pleasing realistic spirit, which gives to the dull and lifeless marble a form that appeals to the heart and inspires devotion and prayer.

Armin Sibbel.