Friday, August 3, 2018

Depictions of Lady Liberty in the 18C Early Republic

1792 Genius of Lady's Magazine kneels before Columbia (Lady Liberty) with a petition for the rights of women. Lady's Magazine. Library Company of Philadelphia

For the first 50 years after the signing of the Declaration of Independence on the 4th of July, American women would present their appreciation of the nation's hard-won liberty as handiwork in the form of banners, flags, or standards to groups of soldiers of the United States military. These Independence Day presentation ceremony would allow the women to speak about what the new nation & its defenders meant to them, even though they would not be allowed to vote until 1920.  These female orators could be viewed as the embodiment of Lady Liberty herself.

Symbols, like those of Lady Liberty illustrated here, are visual shorthand. The English and the colonists had begun depicting America as a lady even before the American Revolution. Americans in the 18th & 19th centuries invented or adopted emblems (images accompanied by a motto either understood or written) and personifications (usually historical allegorical figures) to express their political needs & beliefs.

In the 18C, European and American artists used the images of Native American women as allegorical representations of the American continent, the American colonies, and the United States of America.  These fanciful images had changed in form and substance during their several hundred of years of use.  First depicted as an "Indian queen" in printed engravings, tapestries, and sculptures, this representation of a native woman carried implements of war and postured near severed heads and exotic plants and animals.  These images reflected European reactions to the "new world," which they perceived as a foreign and hostile environment.  As European exploration progressed, artists began to depict an opulent, heavyset Indian queen sitting or standing among the abundant natural resources of the Americas.

From 1755 to the War of Independence, an Indian princess replaced the queen as a symbol of America.  The younger, thinner, less warlike princess became a representation of the American colonies, distinct from Great Britain.  A feathered headdress and skirt became her customary dress and her complexion became lighter.  This new allegorical native woman adorned political and non-political prints, serial publications, map cartouches, figurines, medals, and other objects.  She most frequently appeared in images pertaining to British-colonial relations, the American pursuit of liberty, and issues of commerce and trade.  Following the Revolutionary War, Columbia and neo-Classical female figures gradually replaced the Indian princess as the symbol of America.

These symbols were propaganda tools to draw together the country's diverse peoples, who spoke many languages, in order to promote national political union & purpose. Lady Liberty evolved throughout the decades of the early republic to meet the propaganda needs of the current situation.
This 18C Early Republic Lady Liberty freeing a bird from its cage, giving political liberty to the new United States from Britain, while holding a liberty cap hung on a pole. Lady Liberty was almost always depicted in a classical costume. Before the Roman Empire, similar felt caps were worn by liberated slaves from Troy & Asia Minor to cover their previously shorn heads, until their hair grew back. Here the cap symbolized a more intimate emancipation from personal servitude as a subject of the British Empire rather than united, national liberty. The caps were sometimes referred in Latin as pilleus liberatis. In classical literature, the cap atop a pole was a symbol of freedom evolving from the period when Salturnius conquered Rome in 263 BC; and he raised the cap on a pikestaff to show that he would free the slaves who fought with him. The cap was such a popular symbol that it was also depicted on some early US coins.

Lady Liberty is holding a musket & powder horn, ready to fight for freedom. 1779 Broadside. New York Historical Society. SY1779 No. 2.

Venerate the Plough, 1786, etching Columbian Magazine

1790 Design on an American Coverlet Winterthur Museum

Edward Savage Liberty in the Form of the Goddess of Youth Giving Support to the Bald Eagle, 1796

Liberty in the Form of the Goddess inspired by Edward Savage's print in Embroidery by a young woman.

Abijah Canfield Liberty in the Form of the Goddess of Youth Giving Support to the Bald Eagle, a painting after Edward Savage. 1800

Enoch Gridley Pater Patriae Memorial for George Washington with Lady Liberty at the base holding a spear and a sword as she weeps. 1800

Lady Liberty 1800 Brown University