Thursday, October 2, 2008

Statue of Liberty

Originally titled Liberty Enlightening the World, the colossal statue on Liberty Island in New York Harbor stands nearly 307 feet (93.5 meters) high. It represents a woman of pre-Raphaelite appearance, draped in voluminous robes and crowned with a spiked diadem. Her right hand raises a flaming torch at arm’s length; her left carries a book emblazoned with, “July 4, 1776”; broken chains are strewn around her feet. The towering figure alone is over 152 feet (46 meters) high, her right arm is 42 feet (12.8 meters) long, and her head measures 28 feet (8.5 meters) from neck to diadem. She weighs about 250 tons (227 tonnes). Conceived for other reasons, the Statue of Liberty has become since 1903 first a symbol of U.S. immigration and then a universal icon of emancipation, as well as the most recognizable emblem of New York City, perhaps even of the United States.

Primarily, the monument may have been intended to express French republican ideals when France was enduring Napoléon III’s repressive rule. The idea was first discussed in 1865 in the Paris home of the scholar Edouard de Laboulaye, who admired the wealthy industrializing nation that had just emerged from the crucible of a civil war. De Laboulaye believed that a monument expressing the idea of liberty would sustain the republican principle in France while strengthening ties with the United States, and he shared his thoughts with a ready listener, the sculptor Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi. But it was not until 1871—in which Napoléon III was deposed—that Bartholdi crossed the Atlantic to offer the statue as a gift from the French people to the American people. Although it would celebrate, on the centenary of the conflict, friendship established during the War of Independence, the gesture coincided with the perceived need to reinforce republicanism in France, where monarchist sentiment survived.

Bartholdi chose New York Harbor, a major gateway to the United States, as a site with the necessary symbolic value. He is said to have been an “academic sculptor driven by two obsessions: liberty and immensity.” Impressed with the Ramessean colossi of Egypt and accounts of the Colossus of Rhodes, he set out to design a work of overpowering scale to stand at the harbor entrance. It was agreed that the American people would finance construction of a pedestal and France would pay for the statue and its construction in the United States. The plan was announced late in 1874.

Bartholdi produced a design by 1875. His 4-foot (1.25-meter) clay model was scaled up to produce 300 full-sized plaster sections, from which wooden forms were crafted. The 452 pieces of the statue’s outer skin were made by hammer dressing 0.1-inch-thick (2.5-millimeter) sheets of Norwegian copper against the forms. The structural support for the flimsy envelope was designed by the engineer Gustave Eiffel, already reputed for his metal structures, in consultation with the architect E. E. Viollet-le-Duc. A central wrought-iron pylon carried a secondary framework of flexible iron bars to which the copper skin was riveted. This dual construction—a lightweight skin on a substantial skeleton—would not only withstand high wind loads but also safely respond to temperature changes. Lack of money slowed progress, but various fund-raising programs meant that Liberty Enlightening the World was completed and assembled in Paris in June 1884. She stood on public display for six months.

The granite pedestal, designed in 1877 by the French-trained American architect Richard Morris Hunt, was constructed in the courtyard of Fort Wood on Bedloe’s Island under the direction of the engineer Charles P. Stone. It stood just under 150 feet (45 meters) high on a mass concrete foundation, 90 feet (27 meters) square and 53 feet (16 meters) deep. In the United States, despite art shows, theatrical galas, auctions, and even prizefights, finance was not forthcoming. The statue waited in Paris while the American Committee looked for $100,000 to complete the pedestal. In January 1885 the statue was dismantled into over 300 pieces, packed in 214 crates, and shipped on the frigate Isere, arriving in New York Harbor in June. The funds for the pedestal were finally in hand by August, and the work was finished eight months later. It then took four months to reassemble Liberty Enlightening the World, and the dedication took place on 28 October 1886.

Because her torch was a navigational aid, the statue was first managed by the Lighthouse Board. In 1901 administration was transferred to the War Department, and in 1924 the great figure was declared a national monument. In 1956 Bedloe’s Island was renamed Liberty Island, and in 1965 neighboring Ellis Island, site of a large immigration station, became part of the Statue of Liberty National Monument. Between 1983 and 1986 a $140 million rehabilitation project saw French and American craftsmen repairing failed rivets and replacing the rusted iron core with stainless steel. They strengthened the right arm and replaced the old flame, which had been lit from inside, with a gold-plated copper flame lit by reflection, as Bartholdi had originally intended.

As part of the 1880s fund-raising effort the poet Emma Lazarus wrote a sonnet titled “The New Colossus.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Other interesting posts

Related Posts with Thumbnails