Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Masterpiece of the Week: The Statue of Liberty, 1886

Liberty Enlightening the World
National Park Service
Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.

--Emma Lazarus, 1903

Though we call her “The Statue of Liberty” her real name is “La Liberté éclairant le monde” or “Liberty Enlightening the World.” Designed by Frédéric Bartholdi and dedicated on October 28, 1886, The statue was a gift to the people of the United States from the people of France. This colossal figure, designed in the Neoclassical Style, depicts a robed female bearing a tabula ansata (a tablet evoking the law) inscribed with the date of American independence. In her right arm, she holds aloft a great torch, and at her feet lies a broken chain to symbolize freedom.

Sculptor Bartholdi
National Park Service
The statue was to be a gift to the United States provided that the U.S. provide the land and the base. Fundraising for the project proved difficult in both the U.S. and France until publisher Joseph Pulitzer became involved in the effort—spreading the word and heightening interest. The head and right arm of the figure were finished first. Both traveled and were put on display to bring attention to the project. With the statue finally completed, the pieces were shipped to the United States and assembled on the newly built pedestal erected on what was then called Bedloe’s Island.

The statue is supported by an iron-work armature which acts as a skeleton. Thin sheets of copper were hammered in a repoussé method and affixed to the internal structure. These metal sheets make the “skin” of the figure. This was one of the first instances of “curtain wall” construction where the façade of the structure is not load-bearing, but rather decorative. Two spiral staircases within the internal structure allowed visitors to access the observation deck within her crown.

The amber glass torch
National Park Service
The torch has been changed several times over the years. Originally, holes were cut into the torch so that it could act as a lighthouse, however, this proved to be ineffective. Then, a band of windows was constructed around the center of the flame, however this was not suitable either. The metal flame was replaced with a flame of amber glass and iron, topped with a pyramid-shaped skylight. This version of the torch proved an effective light, but was structurally unsound and leaked terribly. In the 1980’s a gilt metal flame based on Bartholdi’s original design replaced the glass version which is still on display at the site.

Lady Liberty has proudly stood in the New York harbor during times of war and times of peace. She welcomes people to our country and serves to remind us of our freedom. She represents the American spirit, and, in many ways is the face of the United States.

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