Artwork Detail

Freedom's Memorial
American, 1819–1911
44 1/2 x 27 1/4 x 21 1/8 "
Gift of Reverend Dr. William Greenleaf Eliot
WU 3782
Thomas Ball’s sculpture "Freedom’s Memorial" commemorates the Emancipation Proclamation, the executive order issued by Abraham Lincoln on January 1, 1863, granting freedom to people enslaved in Confederate territories. Lincoln is depicted holding a document while gazing down at a newly freed slave whose idealized form, and especially his Phrygian cap connoting liberty, was meant to symbolically represent all those emancipated. Carved in marble, the work evinces a classically informed style typical of the mid-nineteenth century. For Americans this classicizing style signified ideals of logic, order, and deeply rooted tradition—especially appealing to the young nation seeking to prove itself on the international stage. Ball’s condensation of this complex historical event into a single scene is not without its problems, as its composition reinscribes racial power hierarchies and the slave’s idealized body shows no sign of the horrors of slavery. [Exhibition label, 2016]