The Porter Angel

HENRY KIRKE PORTER

1840 – 1941

Porter had a brief stint in the 45th Regiment, Massachusetts Volunteer Militia during the Civil War.  After, he had a distinguished career as an industrialist manufacturing light locomotives.  He also served a term as a US Congressman. But Porter is most remembered for his philanthropic work. He was one of the founders of the Young Men’s Christian Association (Y.M.C.A.) and served as the president of the Pittsburgh Y.M.C.A. from 1868 to 1887.   He served on various other community and international boards, as well, including, the Pittsburgh Chamber of Commerce, the Western Pennsylvania Institute for the Blind, the International Committee of the Y.M.C.A., the Carnegie Institute, the Crozier Theological Seminary, and as a member of the Board of Fellows of Brown University.

Henry Kirke Porter and his family plot is commemorated by a bronze angel, one of the most visited monuments in the Allegheny Cemetery. The angel is a classic example of mourning figures found in cemeteries—head bent down in grief, wide wing span, and draped gown. 

In the book, Images of America: Allegheny Cemetery, published in 2016, page 29, published by Arcadia Publishing, Charleston, South Carolina, authors, Lisa Speranza and Nancy Foley describe one of the most impressive monuments in the Allegheny Cemetery in Pittsburgh—the Porter Angel.

“…perhaps one of the most recognizable faces within the cemetery, standing watch over the family of Henry Kirke Porter.”  …The current Porter Angel likely dates to the 1920s.  However, as early as 1906, a Pittsburgh Daily Post article shows a marble angel and sandstone cross at the family grave.  Imported from Italy, it was reputed to be one of the most striking examples of marble carving in any cemetery in America.  As it weathered, it was likely replaced with the stunning bronze monument that so many recognize today.” 

The replacement angel was created by sculptor Enrico Butti (April 3, 1847 – January 21, 1932) of Milan, Italy and cast at the Kunst Foundry in New York.  Sculptor Butti came by his talent naturally having been born into a family of sculptors and marble cutters.  At an early age, Butti went to study with renowned Italian sculptors Pietro Magni, Francesco Barzaghi, and Ugo Zannoni.  By the age 25, Butti won praise for his first exhibited work, Raphael cementing his career as a budding sculptor winning commissions during the rest of his lifetime.

The Porter Angel is cast bronze, standing the second of three steps that lead down from a Latin Cross.  The Latin Cross is universally recognized as a symbol of the Christianity however, it is not the only symbolism in the monument, which may be lost on some viewers. In this monument, the cross rests on a foundation of three progressively larger stones as a base. Each represents a different virtue—“Faith in the will of God…Hope for the dawn of that yet more glorious day and Charity toward all men.”

In the journal article: “Transmigration/Transformation Enrico Buttie’s Angel in Milan and Pittsburgh” by Elisabeth L. Roark, (Italian Review Vol. 7, No. 2, Summer 2017, pp. 148-179 (32 Pages) published by the University of Illinois Press) she describes the drama of the sculpture,

Nine feet tall, with an astonishingly detailed ten-foot wingspan, it wears a wide-sleeved, loose gown that cascades over its body and down three outsize granite steps.  Its pose is theatrical; a dramatic weight shift thrusts its lower torso forward, balanced by outstretched arms that extend to the front and the side.  Its long fingers form graceful gestures: on the left hand, spread wide and held parallel to the ground; on the right hand, the thumb and forefinger almost meet and reach toward the stone block beside it.  The angel’s head is bent as if concentrating on its right hand, eyes cast down and face framed by long wavy hair.”

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