RESPONSE WEEK 2: What’s wrong with this painting?

6 Nov

            The depiction of history is as many things in our contemporary culture, glamorized. It seems relevant to bring attention to what appears as a constant desire to make the dirty work seem as an Easy-Bake cake. If we look at Trajan’s column, which we discussed the first week, a similar approach to idealizing a nothing but subtle situation is apparent in Washington Crossing the River. The Trajan’s column though depicting a scene of war, a ferocious battle, and a victory, narrates to the viewer a series of events, which figures are idealized gestural and aesthetically, and thou exaggerating perhaps on the battle’s difficulties. The standing relief carved marble sculpture stands as a commemoration of a projected cultural identity.  Where as Washington crossing the river, a two-dimensional work, oil painting meant for interior display shares with the viewer a historical event of its own and depicting a national hero, who is an icon but could be anybody. The painting, Washington Crossing the Delaware, focuses on a moment of a historic chapter, rather than depicting chronological series as events as the column does. Yet they both propagate and are intended to inform the viewer (the citizens) on their national history, or what those who commission and fund such works want the story to tell. The theme I would like to address overall is the glamorization of imagery for political power purposes, and how the painting, Washington Crossing the River does so.

            As described in the article ­What’s wrong with this painting? the situations American soldiers when crossing the Delaware faced, were in real life nothing as what the painting depicts. By showcasing an image of heroic and virile figures to promote nationalism and the military forces, it seems the intentions of the artist, and of those who commissioned it is for the public to see the grandness not of the particular individuals, but what they stand for. That of democracy that of fighting and persevering through hard times keeping face. Taking notice of Emmanuel Leutze, the German painter who created the work, would have had no idea what such event looked like. Yet his life experiences and longing for a political transformation in his native country, seem to contribute to the beautified depiction of Washington Crossing the Delaware. The fact that a germane painter was commissioned to create this work does in a way bring doubts about the nationalistic pride. It reminds me of Mexico’s most recent monument celebrating the bicentennial independence, which should be a celebration of what the nation has been and what is overcome, instead they build a minimal light tower with imported stones from Italy. Regardless this is a topic of its own, yet the matter that foreigner identities are integrated to a celebration of a nation, brings question on what a national identity is, and how it is developed. To be proud of historical achievements and depicting idealized versions is a tactic used throughout history. I just find it very peculiar how humans in different geographical and historical context seek to portray the “ideal”.


So the purpose of the painting is to represent the strength of a country, the perseverance of its men through the hard weather, but never loosing the cool.  To the day this painting is a symbol of the United States proud military. I agree with feeling proud of one’s own sediments, but not when based on fallacy. It makes me wonder why is the hard work and falls hidden behind a glossy image. It brings me to the conclusion that since the Romans, to early American history, and to present day, the idealization and glamorized imagery of political matters is present when communicating to the people of a country a given history. Some would argue that photojournalism removes this tool from some contemporary politicians, yet still with the flow of real, banal, and brutal imagery reaching the public many images at times become desensitized and in extreme case scenarios, glamorized.



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