Allegory in art

How Art Shapes Our Life

September 8, 2011 

For as long as human beings have been producing art, allegory has been used as a device for presenting important concepts. This is done by symbolically representing what would otherwise be just an abstract idea or principle.

Allegory in art conveys meaning in ways other than the use of verbal language. An effective tool which lasts much longer and is designed to speak to the ages. This method of presenting ideas can be in literary form, such as a poem or story; or in a visual form, such as a painting or sculpture. Sometimes an allegorical artwork can come to symbolize much more than was originally intended by the artist.

Frederic Auguste Bartholdi (1834-1904) was a French sculptor who was awarded the commission, (and responsibility), of designing a statue. Not just any statue. This one would be given as a gift from the people of his country to the people of the United States. Intended to signify the friendship and shared values of the two new republics; the actual placing of the colossal statue would be a joint effort. France would finance the crafting of the monument and the Americans would provide the pedestal and the site. With that charge, Bartholdi traveled to the United States in 1871 and personally selected Bedloe's Island in New York Harbor as the site for his sculpture.

The sculptor's quest for a figure that would express the concept of liberty would eventually lead him to two models. The first was a figure taken from Roman mythology, "Libertas," from whom the word liberty was derived. She had been portrayed in many paintings with a long flowing robe, holding a torch and cradling a stone tablet evoking the law. A figure of Liberty also happened to be depicted on the "Great Seal of France." His other model was to be his own mother, Charlotte Beysser Bartholdi, who's face he felt characterized a stern countenance. Those two female personas were ingeniously combined into that single three-dimensional figure which has become an icon of freedom and the United States.

In American folklore the Statue of Liberty has come to stand for the unprecedented immigration movement that changed and shaped our nation. The official name of this colossal neo-classical sculpture is, "Liberty Enlightening the World," and it has truly come to do just that. It was the largest work of its kind up until the 1880's. The statue itself is 151 feet high, but from the bottom of the pedestal to the top of the torch measures more than double that height at 305 feet. The skin is made of copper sheets which were beaten into shape by hammering them from the reverse side. The interior load bearing framework, to which the skin is fastened, was designed by Gustave Eiffel. There is a circular stairwell inside of the sculpture which ascends to a viewing area within the crown.

The Statue of Liberty was officially dedicated on Oct. 28, 1886. Originally this national treasure was administered by the United States Lighthouse Board and then later by the Department of War. Since 1933 the island and statue have been maintained by the National Park Service, www.nps.gov/stli). In 1956 Congress renamed Bedloe's Island; it is now called Liberty Island. In 1965 president Lyndon Johnson incorporated neighboring Ellis Island, which houses the "Immigration Museum," to be as part of the, "Statue of Liberty National Monument."

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