SYMBOLISM & MEANING
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Flying Messengers: Figures clad in flowing robes surround the American flag and “proclaim to earth, air, and ocean the glory and might of the successful Republic,” according to the artist.
Bald Eagle: The bald eagle was chosen in 1782 as the emblem of the United States of America because of its long life, great strength, and majestic looks.
Republic and Minerva: Republic, the classical, white-robed figure in the center may have been adapted from Marianne—the French symbol of reason, liberty, and ideals of a republic. Republic holds a triangle—a symbol for order, balance, and moderation. Next to her is Minerva, a Roman goddess of wisdom, poetry, medicine, and commerce. The artist indicated that these two figures together represent the American government.
Statehood: Several states are represented by classical figures in the center of the painting. In this group (from left to right), they are: South Carolina, Massachusetts, Illinois, Louisiana.
Lions: Republic and Minerva stand on a triumphal car pulled by lions symbolizing the sovereignty of the American republic. The inscription E Pluribus Unum, meaning “Out of Many, One,” is the nation’s motto.
Immigrants: European immigrants arrive on vessels from many countries and look forward to “equality, wealth, and assured social position,” according to the artist. They ride on grain-filled wagons pulled by sturdy oxen, symbolic of the bounty of American agriculture.
Spirits: Depicted as the dead rising from their crypts, the Founding Fathers “ascend to join in the Great Centennial” of the United States.
War: The muscular, reclining figure in the lower left holds the torch of War, which is extinguished by the water of great American rivers. This was perhaps especially symbolic of the end of the Civil War.
Cherubs: The cherubs in the foreground hold symbols of medicine, education, industry, literature, and art. The fruit and flowers spilling out of a large vase are symbols of abundance.
Slavery: In the lower right corner, the liberation of slaves in America is depicted as the white man lifting the black man up. The minister behind him holds a Bible, converting masses of African Americans to Christianity.
Native People: Depicted on the far right of the canvas, American Indians are portrayed as “the stoic of the woods, the man without a tear,” according to the artist.
Statue of George Washington: Universally regarded as the Father of our Country, Washington was commander-in-chief of the Continental Army during the American Revolution and the first President of the United States. Below, grateful citizens offer laurel wreaths, symbols of victory, to their hero.
Statehood: Several states are represented by classical figures in the center of the painting. In this group (from left to right), they are: New York, Pennsylvania, and Virginia.