J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Sunday, September 18, 2016

American Apotheoses

I do like me some political apotheosis art.

As discussed at the Unemployed Philosophers Guild and Princeton’s Graphic Arts Collection, these were prints that honored a dead political figure by showing him ascending to heaven.

After George Washington’s death at the end of 1799, the Irish-born artist John James Barralet produced a print, shown here, of the late President being received into heaven by Genius, Immortality, Faith, Hope, and Charity while Liberty and America mourn below.

That was such a popular image in America that after Abraham Lincoln’s murder in 1865 there was an apotheosis image copied from it.

S. J. Ferris portrayed Lincoln and Washington in heaven together with different degrees of slashiness.
In the same year, another “Apotheosis of Washington” was painted on the U.S. Capitol ceiling.

The earliest example of an American political apotheosis that I’ve spotted actually came from Revolutionary France in 1790: “L’Apôtre de le Liberté Immortalisé (The Apostle of Liberty Immortalized),” by Baricou Montbrun. This was a Parisian a response to the death of favorite diplomat Benjamin Franklin. The Newport Historical Society recently located a copy in its collection.
I have to say, Franklin’s body language makes this action look more like Titian’s “Rape of Europa” than a cheerful apotheosis.


G. Lovely said...

Looks more to me like Franklin is frantically resisting be "apotheosis-ized". Given what a good time he apparently had while living in Paris that would be understandable.

J. L. Bell said...

Washington certainly seems more stoic about the whole business.