Saturday, December 13, 2008

A LANDMARK IS LOST


Last week, I attended a meeting of Fortnightly I. Literary Club, the oldest literary club in Iberia and Vermilion parishes. I was a member of this club during the late 70’s, then dropped out for awhile and rejoined several years ago because I missed the book reviews and camaraderie of club members. When I attend these gatherings twice monthly, I always learn something new about New Iberia – about its history, or culture, or just about the goings-on in town, particularly as these subjects are relayed to me by Dianne Landry, who keeps a finger on the pulse of our Queen City.

During this meeting last week at Nash’s Restaurant in Broussard, Louisiana, Dianne showed photographs and a bidding catalog concerning the sale of the statue of Hadrian who, until recently, stood on a pedestal beside the St. Peter Branch of IberiaBank, New Iberia, Louisiana. The Hadrian statue was one of our town monuments, and Dianne informed us that it was to be sold at Christie’s Auction House in Rockefeller Center, New York City. She said that the experts had put a price of $350,000 - $500,000 on the sculpture. A day after our Fortnightly meeting, the statue sold for $902,000, and IberiaBank will receive $750,000 as its share of the sale.

IberiaBank has owned the statue since 1961 when the bank purchased it from J. Wilson Raker of New Orleans, but its origin dates back to the Villa-Montalto-Negroni-Massimi, Rome and was bought by the Earl of Darnley of Cobham Hall, Kent England during the 18th century. It was sold at Sotheby’s in London, then to J. Wilson Raker of New Orleans. Hadrian finally found his way to New Iberia, with its ambience of Malagueno settlers, via IberiaBank.

For almost 20 years, Hadrian stood on a pedestal outside the St. Peter Branch of IberiaBank and suffered through bad weather and the effects of exhaust fumes, remaining vulnerable to defacement by potential vandals. In 1980, he found a new home in a domed glass enclosure and became one of the curiosities of New Iberia, a piece of antiquity encased in a glass box nestled beside a banking institution!

The Emperor Hadrian was born in Rome in 76 A.D., and his father, a Roman senator, was a native of the Roman settlement of Italica in Spain. Dianne Landry told us that possibly because of Hadrian’s father’s Spanish lineage and the fact that New Iberia was originally founded by the Spanish, the linkage inspired the board of IberiaBank to buy the statue.

Hadrian reigned as Emperor of the Roman Empire, 117-138, and his contributions include the Pantheon, the Temple of Venus, his own mausoleum, and other architectural treasures. He distinguished himself as a military strategist and during his reign, he attempted to solidify the Roman Empire’s borders. His legions constructed walls in Britain to defend Roman Britain from the Scottish Picts in the North and in Algeria. His military credits include quelling a Jewish revolt and creating a Panhellenic League. In an attempt to secure the loyalty of Greek aristocracy, Hadrian also completed the Temple of Zeus in Athens.

New Iberian Henry Dauterive was a board member of IberiaBank in 1961 when the sculpture was bought and was quoted in the Daily Iberian as saying that interest in “The Year of Hadrian” in Europe this year probably influenced the high bid on the statue at the auction in New York City. Some Iberians chided the bank for doing away with a valuable piece of art and lamented the loss of another notable landmark in New Iberia, Louisiana. It’s a “given” that when money is scant, art is one of the first things to go!
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