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Sunday, April 5, 2015

Revolutionary War Symbols and Icons

I've commented before on the iconography of the American Revolution.  Taking a closer look at the Princeton Battle Monument, we can find an interesting collection of symbols and images that provide broader connotations for the war.  Here is the base as the front:


It is not easy to make it all out in this small image.  As we look at it, in the block on the far left, we see rifles and bayonets.  In the center, an eagle with wings spread is between two cannons.  Smoke appears to be billowing from the opening of each.  In the eagle's talons is a length of broken chain.  Just below the eagle are a powder horn and pistols.  On the far right are a drum, two bugles and barrels.   I have not identified everything in the image.  What we do so connotes not just the components of battle, but the clear political symbolism of the broken chain.  Why the eagle as the symbol of the country during the Revolution? The National Wildlife Federation site posits that "[a]t the time, the new nation was still at war with England, and the fierce-looking bird seemed to be an appropriate emblem." The Bald Eagle Foundation notes "[t]he bald eagle was chosen June 20, 1782 as the emblem of the United States of American, because of its long life, great strength and majestic looks, and also because it was then believed to exist only on this continent."

A 1922 account of the monument is available for reading on line.  It was designed by the Beaux-Arts sculptor Frederick William MacMonnies (1863–1937).  He collaborated with architect Thomas Hastings (1860–1929).  The project, commissioned in 1908, was not completed until 1922.


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