“Abraham Lincoln” by artist Randolph Rogers – Museum Without Walls™: AUDIO


[Kirk Savage] Abraham Lincoln is shown seated, and holding a pen, a quill pen, in his right hand, and a piece of paper in his left hand, gazing up as if to the heavens. So the question is, what is he signing? I’m Kirk Savage, I have studied public memorials for most of my professional life. This particular memorial shows Abraham Lincoln signing the Emancipation Proclamation. [Harold Holzer (Scholar)] It reflects an era in which, as Lincoln believed himself, would be remembered principally for the Emancipation Proclamation. [Harold Holzer] I’m Harold Holzer, co-chairman of the U.S. Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission, and the author of “The Lincoln Image.” When he signed it, he said, “If my name ever goes into history, it will be because of this act,” and I think that’s what the early artists and the early sculptors were emphasizing, his aspiration and his impact on society. [Savage] After Lincoln’s assassination in the spring of 1865 there was a huge outpouring of proposals to commemorate him in public monuments all across the country, and Philadelphia was one of the early examples of this. This monument was first proposed in May of 1865, just a few weeks after Lincoln had been assassinated. [Millard F. Rogers, Jr.] And by 1868 they signed a contract with Randolph Rogers, one of the most significant American artists of his time. I’m Millard Rogers Jr., the author of the book, “Randolph Rogers: American Sculptor in Rome,” and no relation to the sculptor himself, Randolph Rogers. No, indeed. [Laughs quietly.] What you see in the monument, is not the only model that Rogers worked on as the idea for his Lincoln memorial. [Savage] Initially, he seems to have submitted three designs. The simplest design was a standing figure of Lincoln, holding the Emancipation Proclamation. The next design was a standing figure of Lincoln, holding the Emancipation Proclamation, but trampling a demon of discord and disunion under his feet. The third design was the standing figure with the demon, but also with the crouching female figure of a slave at his feet. [Rogers] Looking up at the great emancipator. [Savage] Then they shifted to a seated figure of Lincoln without any figure of a slave, or without any demon. The committee seems to have thought that a seated figure might make Lincoln look a little bit better than a standing figure, because at that point in time, a lot of people thought that Lincoln was a really ugly sculptural subject. He didn’t have a heroic body. That was a big problem then. [Rogers] There’s a long history of seated figures, it goes back to Roman imperial sculpture. [Savage] By putting him in a seated posture, typically used for writers, composers, statesmen, people who were known for their literary creations above all, it does actually of turn him into, almost a kind of cultural hero, and a moral hero. [Rogers] Rogers is quoted at saying, “His eyes were turned toward heaven, asking the Almighty for his approval.” [Holzer] Lincoln said it was God’s will. He thought there was divine will attached to all of the suffering of the war that was required to cleanse the country of the centuries-old sin of slavery. His final speech, April 11th, 1865, he says, we should seriously consider offering the vote to colored people. And one of the people in the crowd turned to a friend and said, “Did you hear that? That means Negro citizenship. That’s the last speech he’ll ever make.” And that person was John Wilkes Booth. Three days later, he shot him to death.

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