Art chronicler Vivien Fryd explains how the Statue that Freedom, the bronze statue atop the U.S. Capitol dome in Washington, D.C., was changed to accommodate the sectional and racial politics of antebellum America.

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Thomas Crawford, frosting of flexibility (U.S. Capitol dome), 1863.Bronze (cast through Robeert Mills), 234 inches.Source: Courtesy of the Architect that the Capitol


Thomas U. Walter. Original Sketch for Statue and U.S. Capitol Elevation. 1855.Salted record photo print.Source: Courtesy that the Library the Congress


Thomas U. Walter. Original Sketch because that Statue and also U.S. Capitol Elevation. 1855.Salted document photo print.Source: Courtesy the the Library of Congress

Thomas Crawford’s Statue that Freedom (figure 1), the colossal copper statue atop the U.S. Capitol dome, dominates the Capitol and also the city that Washington, D. C., through virtue of its size and also placement therefore far over the ground. However this prize of liberty is regularly misidentified as an Indian. Cutting board Crawford’s Statue that Freedom is, in fact, a daunting monument to discern since of its ar far over the viewer’s eye, but additionally because the artist was forced to make a number of compositional and iconographic transforms to meet his patron, the U. S. Government as stood for by Secretary of battle Jefferson Davis, who remained in charge of the building and construction of the Capitol Extension in between 1853 and also 1857. Crawford’s Statue the Freedom, started after the warm of the Fugitive slave Act (1850) and also the publishing of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1851), and also completed in 1863 in the middle of the civil War, is not just a situation study in the duty played by patrons in shaping and compromising the ideological content of public art, but also a monument the embodies and contributed to the intricacies the race and also racism in the united States. The Statue that Freedom, in fact, participated in the battle between the North and South once Jefferson Davis supplied his place as the Secretary of battle to eliminate any type of references to enslavement in a public building that belonged come both regions.

Thomas U. Walter, the architect the the U.S. Capitol, had an initial suggested in a preliminary illustration of 1855 (figure 2) that a significant statue decorate the new dome of the U.S. Capitol building. In creating an allegorical female number holding a pole surmounted by a cap, Walter appropriated the renowned iconography the “Libertas” an initial codified in eighteenth-century emblem books. During the French and American Revolutions, “Libertas” symbolized flexibility from tyranny together is obvious in the Paul Revere masthead for the Massachusetts Spy in 1781. Crawford followed Walter’s concept in his 2nd version for Statue of Freedom in i beg your pardon the female number in lengthy robes through sword and also wreath stands on a globe, attract the “Phrygian” cap (figure 3).

Secretary of war Davis thought about the liberty cap the Crawford included in his proposal because that the dome statue as problematic, however, saying that the cap’s “history makes it inappropriate to a people who to be born complimentary and would not be enslaved.” that recommended the “armed Liberty” instead “wear a helmet,” offered “that her problem over, her reason triumphant.” A plantation slave owner native Mississippi who argued vehemently in behalf of the servant system and also the expansion of slavery right into newly got lands together a congressman, senator, and also secretary that war, Davis (who would end up being the chairman of the Confederacy throughout the polite War) construed the original definition of enslavement in old Rome and he to work semantics to argue the this ancient model was different from the southern financial system. The supervising technician of the Capitol Extension, Montgomery C. Meigs, described the case to Crawford in relationship to the style for one more sculpture for the Capitol Building: “Mr. Davis says that the does not like the cap of Liberty introduced right into the ingredient American Liberty is initial & no the liberty that the cost-free slave.” follow to Davis, Meigs explained, the cap that became a revolutionary symbol in France derived from “the Roman practice of liberating servants thence referred to as freedmen & permitted to undertake this cap.” Davis clearly understood the exercise of manumission in old Rome, in i m sorry freed servants covered their recently shorn heads v the pileus cap while magistrates touched them through a rod (the vindicta). The made this debate to deny the the servants on his plantation additionally desired the same form of freedom. He refused to permit any work-related in the U.S. Capitol building that alluded to enslavement either overtly or privately via the cap. Together maneuvers aimed to elide the tensions in between the North and also the southern over this volatile problem during a period of local differences.

In solution to Davis’s objections, Crawford changed the objectionable cap with a helmet and also eagle feathers, transforming what had clearly been an allegory the Liberty into a confound monument the combines three classic personifications: Liberty (signified by the title), Minerva, and also America. By including the eagle feathers to the helmet, Crawford associated America with Liberty, an iconographic tradition that began before the Revolutionary War, wherein the Indian princess with tobacco leaf skirt and headdress hold the cap and also pole. A majestic and also robust female figure, Statue the Freedom additionally evokes Minerva, the roman inn goddess of war and also of the city, protector of polite life, and also embodiment of wisdom and also reason. Crawford’s number in fact emulates Phidias’s fabled shed statue of Athena (the name supplied by the ancient Greeks for the later Roman Minerva) that stood in the Parthenon atop ancient Athens. Both the old and the contemporary works include the helmet, the chest medallion, and the shield follow me the side. Also the fluted coat gathered from the reduced right to the upper left shoulder synchronizes in these two matron types, who immobility, severity of facial expression, army accoutrements, and also colossal size express sternness and control.

Crawford’s Statue that Freedom thus combines a multitude that “Others” that create the United states democracy: the black color body (as embodied by the pileus and also pole, i m sorry Davis attempted come omit), the “Indian” human body in the kind of the eagle feathers and also allegory that “America” together an Indian princess, the “female” human body in the type of the female allegory, and the “primitive” body, which intersects every three. The statue for this reason embodies the three major figures developed by the brand-new nation—the african American, the American Indian, and also the white woman; these Others coalesced in Crawford’s statue and also in Davis’s very own vision of white superiority the he insisted be represented in the U.S. Capitol dome statue, causing a confusing monument that plenty of Americans misunderstand merely as an Indian princess.

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Vivien eco-friendly Fryd, Art and also Empire: The politics of Ethnicity in the United states Capitol, 1815-1860 (New Haven: Yale university Press, 1992; paperback edition, Athens: Ohio university Press, 2000).