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Public Art on South Campus: University of Massachusetts Lowell

Orpheus , Joseph Coletti, 1967

gold statue of a naked man holding up a lyre, like a small harp


This magnificent sculpture captures both the power and joy of music. Coletti studied with the American painter John Singer Sargent who is often associated with the Aesthetic Movement of the late nineteenth century. This movement emphasized beauty of color, composition, and form; and frequently drew on subjects from the mythical past. So even though this statue dates decades after the Aesthetic Movement, it still highlights Coletti’s skill drawing out the beauty of his subject.

 gold naked man with lyre


fountain drawing

 Orpheus was the great musician of Greek mythology; here he plays a lyre (an instrument similar to a harp). According to the myth, he played so beautifully he could charm nature itself: notice how the dolphins at his feet have cheerfully lined up to listen. 

Sargent himself had a strong connection with the city of Boston (examples of Sargent’s work can be seen in Boston Public Library and at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum) and that may explain why Coletti remained in the area and undertook this commission. The statue originally formed part of a fountain--you can still see the pipes for the fountain in the mouths of the fish if you look closely. The fountain was located in the foyer of Concordia Hall, a dormitory on South Campus for music majors who aspired to follow in Orpheus’ footsteps. When the fountain got dismantled, Orpheus got moved to North Campus where he sat outside of Alumni Hall for years; the New England weather took a toll, and the original gilt finish wore off. With the restoration of Coburn Hall in 2018, the statue returned to South Campus, was re-gilt, and placed inside the loggia for protection


sculpted golden dolphions

As noted by David Dunne in the American Art course, Orpheus’s body is strong and powerful and yet we see him gently grip the lyre. Coletti suggests that music can unite mankind and nature through his composition: the curve of the lyre above Orpheus’s head parallels the curve made by the dolphins’ bodies below his feet.






1972 yearbook staff four young women wearing clothes of the nineteen seventies looking at a statue of a nude man holding a lyre all smiling
1972 Knoll yearbook showing class officers looking at the Orpheus fountain

gold statue of seated naked man detail form the back includes buttocks , drapery , back arms

Additional Sources:
Alan Priest, The Sculpture of Joseph Coletti (1968), p. 160