Thistlethwaite Americana | Lady Columbia and Emancipation Proclamation
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Lady Columbia and Emancipation Proclamation

Lady Columbia and Emancipation Proclamation

Probably New England

Signed: M. Horburg

Circa 1863-1875

An evocative, allegorical painting celebrating the Emancipation Proclamation issued in 1863. The painting depicts the figure of Columbia cradling a large sprig of laurel leaves and in her right hand is the Emancipation Proclamation. Referencing Lady Liberty, Columbia is dressed in a flowing cloth of gold and wearing a small liberty cap that resembles a tiara. Her magnificent dress is trimmed at the hem with Native American motifs. She is standing on a broken cat-o-nine-tails whip, a potent symbol of the cruelty of slavery. In the Emancipation Proclamation, Forever Free is bolded and underlined, emphasizing how the newly freed slaves will never again be enslaved.

Columbia was the personification of America and its ideals. Columbia appears in art and political works during the American Revolution and other subsequent wars. Columbia has influenced many modern-day names. Columbia University remained in 1784 after the figure. The District of Columbia was also inspired by the figure. Today, Columbia is even featured in the Columbia Pictures logo.

On Columbia’s left is a female slave wearing an African headwrap and wrapped in a flag with a broken manacle around her ankle. On Columbia’s right is a male newly freed slave in African dress holding the large, flowing American flag that forms a backdrop for the figures and swaddles the female. Both figures are gazing at Columbia. All figures are juxtaposed on a background of an evening landscape with a canon to the far left. As Columbia walks forward, the dark cloud clears away representing “the dark cloud of slavery” being no longer.

 A possible inspiration for this work is a painting by Nantucket artist, George Gardner Fish (1822-1906) that survives through carte-de-visite examples published in Boston by John P. Soule. The two collaborated on this image and at least one other, entitled “Peace” published as CDVs in 1864.

WHY WE LOVE IT: An incredible allegorical painting celebrating the Emancipation Proclamation, this painting brings to life Columbia walking forward to free the slaves. Two slaves are at her feet, and the freedwoman is enveloped in the American flag while the male freedman is holding it up.