Thursday, March 24, 2011

A Lady in Winter

I almost missed this great carving of Lady Liberty at the MFA in Boston last month. She was tucked away in a corner of one of the large galleries, literally swallowed up by the huge painting of Washington Crossing the Delaware by Thomas Sully. And she's one of the best sculptures in the museum.

According to the label, this figure of Liberty was carved probably for a Massachusetts courthouse in the 1790s. This symbol of Liberty was very popular in the early years of the American Republic. She is often dressed in classical garb -- an homage to the great republics of ancient Greece and Rome -- and also holds or wears a Phrygian cap, or Liberty cap. The Liberty cap, which you can see on the end of the staff in Liberty's hand, became a symbol of freedom in the 18th century. It also comes from ancient times; the Romans gave these caps to freed slaves.

It's a great carving, probably done by someone with experience in the shipcarving trade. I was amazed at the delicate realism of the sculpture, especially considering that it was meant to be exposed to the elements -- New England winters included.

In fact, I would venture to say that this frail Lady Liberty saw worse winters than the national hero occupying acres of canvas to her right, Valley Forge notwithstanding.


  1. A great sculpture and I love the way the MFA has installed it next to Sully's Washington! I think they might be mistaken, though, when they speculate that it stood atop a Massachusetts courthouse. The symbolism most favored for courthouses was "Lady Justice," sometimes blindfolded, but always carrying the scales of justice. The one that was carved for the 1804 Newburyport, MA courthouse survives in the Custom House Museum there. Sadly, they don't seem to have an image of it online. Thanks for the post!

  2. Thanks, Martha! Good to hear from you! And thanks for this very information. I wish we knew this lady's real story, but for now we can at least admire her in grand style. Thanks again!


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