Author: Keith E. Gibson

Executive Director of the VMI Museum System

Moses Jacob Ezekiel (1844–1917)

Moses Jacob Ezekiel was one of the most celebrated sculptors of his day, his works appearing in civic spaces, art museums, and universities across the world. Born in Richmond to a family of Spanish-Jewish origin, Ezekiel was the first Jewish cadet to attend the Virginia Military Institute, and he fought at the Battle of New Market (1864) during the American Civil War (1861–1865). He later considered a career in medicine but studied sculpture instead. In 1869 Ezekiel relocated to Berlin and won admittance to the royal academy there; four years later he became the first non-German to win the school’s prestigious art competition. For the rest of his life, working out of a studio in Rome, Ezekiel created sculpture, often by commission and for public display. He generally modeled in clay and either sculpted from marble or cast in bronze, creating heroic lifelike portraits that meditated on such themes as religion, religious freedom, and patriotism for both the United States and the Confederacy. He fashioned a bronze of Thomas Jefferson for the city of Louisville, Kentucky, that was replicated for the University of Virginia. He also created a memorial to his fellow cadets who fought at New Market as well as a memorial to the Confederate soldiers buried at Arlington National Cemetery. Ezekiel was buried beneath it after his death in 1917.