Moses Jacob Ezekiel (October 28, 1844 – March 27, 1917)
Ezekiel should be better known for his amazing sculpture entitled Virginia Mourning Her Dead (1903) which dominates the small cemetery at Virginia Military Institute. Every year, at the foot of this statue, roll call is conducted for the brave cadets who fought—and those who died—at the Battle of New Market. Moses Ezekiel was one of those cadets.
Born in Richmond, Ezekiel was one of fourteen children of the impoverished Jewish family of Jacob and Catherine de Castro Ezekiel. In 1862, he was the first Jewish cadet to ever enter VMI, and he lost his shoes in the Battle of New Market in 1864. He continued to serve with the cadets in the trenches as they defended Richmond. After the war, he returned to VMI and graduated in 1866. The story is oft repeated that Robert E. Lee, then President of Washington College, told him:
I hope you will be an artist as it seems to me you were cut out for one. But whatever you do, try to prove to the world that if we did not succeed in our struggle we were worthy of success; and do earn a reputation in whatever profession you undertake.1Ezekiel took his advice, and like many artists of that time period, went abroad to study. He did “carve out a reputation”2 for himself as one of America’s greatest sculptors. He received numerous European awards: Michel-Beer Prix of Rome; Crosses for Merit and Art from both the Emperor of Germany and from the Grand Duke of Saxe-Meiningen; Gold Medal of the Royal Society of Palmero; and the Raphael Medal from the Art Society of Urbino. King Victor Emmanuel, of Italy, gave Ezekiel the titles of “Chevalier,” Officer of the Crown of Italy, and a knighthood.3
|Virginia Mourning Her Dead|
His headstone expresses his love for VMI and his fellow cadet soldiers. It shows his modesty as an artist and as an honored man and reads simply:
Moses J. Ezekiel
Sergeant of Company C,
Battalion of Cadets
Virginia Military Institute
|Statue of Stonewall Jackson|
|Confederate Soldiers Memorial|
by Cheryl L. Metz
- Short, James. “Sir Moses Ezekiel: A Virginia Expatriate Sculptor.” Virginia Cavalcade. Vol.III; Summer1953-Spring 1954, pp.36-7.
- Short, James. p36.