Capitol Rotunda Remix

Brian Ho, Rahul Pentaparthi

Precis Argument

The narrative of the American Revolution, as depicted in the five paintings chosen, is the heroic struggle of a group of colonists to reclaim their sacred rights from the tyrannical British in the face of seemingly insurmountable adversity.

The Paintings:

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The Death of General Mercer at the Battle of Princeton, New Jersey, 3 January

The night of January 2nd, 1777, general Washington led an attack upon British forces near Princeton, New Jersey. Towards the beginning of the battle, one of Washington’s officers, Hugh Mercer, and his troops skirmished with the British soldiers but were quickly overrun, as they were badly outnumbered. The other soldiers of the Continental Army also began to flee upon seeing Mercer’s defeat, but Washington brought reinforcements and rallied his troops, eventually defeating the British force. This painting depicts the moment when Mercer is about to be killed and Washington arrives to rally his forces.

The painting portrays Washington in a heroic light; he is positioned in the center of the composition, seemingly towering over everyone else. Even atop a galloping horse, he has a regal air about him, thrusting his sword forward and gazing off into the distance even as a gruesome battle plays out directly in front of him. General Mercer is shown fighting back to the very end, grasping a British soldier’s bayonet while readying to attack with his own sword. The viewer feels a great sense of pride from seeing the American forces fighting with such valor. As a whole, the painting’s color scheme emphasizes the drama of the scene; the sky is a vivid green in the center where Washington stands, with black clouds at the fringes to create contrast. The faces of the soldiers show great emotion, helping the viewer to imagine the emotions brought about by the frenzy of the battle.

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The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere

On the eve of the British attacks at Lexington and Concord before "the shot heard 'round the world," Paul Revere mythically rode on horseback to warn the colonists of the impending attack, giving the militiamen a chance to arm themselves to slow down the progress of the British. The fact of the matter is that Revere had several people involved in a contingency plan to quickly raise the militia in the face of an attack, but the painting depicts a much more solitary path, showing Revere, no more than a short line passing in front of the town church that stretches to heights much greater than the surrounding hills travelling down a road with no known beginning or end. By contrasting Revere's size with the immense size of everything around him, the painting shows just how insurmountable the odds were that cold night in 1776 as shown in the memory of the painter, Grant Wood, in 1931, further adding to the magnitude of the tall tale, while the happening truth involved a frantic relay of several parties to ready the colonists.
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The Birth of Old Glory

Created by Edward Percy Moran in 1917, the painting relates the story of the beginnings of the flag of these United States of America when it was shown to a solemn general Washington during a visit to the residence of Mrs. Betsy Ross. As the story goes, Ross proved that it was possible to cut a five-pointed star in one snip, showing that it was feasible to have 13 five-point stars arranged in a circle instead of the 6-pointed stars pictured in George Washington's sketch for the flag. As shown above, a glowing Betsy Ross presents the flag that would forever etch her name into the annals of history to George Washington, who is devoid of any expressed happiness, indicating a dark point of the war for him and his men. The story here is that the arrival of the flag represented the arrival of a unifying symbol, a flag that serves as an inspiration and a rally point that effectively turns the tide of the war. The fact of the matter is different, as there is no definitely known creator of the American flag, only that it became the national flag in 1777. The association of a glowing face with the shining flag, however, allows for an indirect personification of liberty, adding to the heroism that was present in the Americans during the worst point of their struggle against the British.
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“The Battle of Bunker Hill,” by Howard Pyle, 1897

British forces, in hopes of securing control of Boston harbor, assaulted the fortified hills surrounding the city. While the British were eventually able to take control of the hills, they did so at a massive cost, suffering a total 1,054 casualties as opposed to the colonists’ 450. The painting depicts the charge of the British forces upon the hill, with dozens of their dead soldiers strewn about.

Perhaps the most striking aspect of the painting is the portrayal of dozens of fallen British soldiers strewn across the hill, with not a single colonist casualty in sight. Such a one sided depiction of the battle emphasizes the competence of the colonist militia, demonstrating that despite facing the most powerful nation on earth, American victory was indeed possible. In view of their massive casualties, the British troop’s rigid, perfectly linear formation seems to be rather senseless, as it makes them an easy target for American cannon fire. The painter may also be associating the inflexibility of the British with their equally unyielding stance towards abrogation of the colonist’s rights.

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The Death of General Warren at Bunker’s Hill, Charlestown, Mass., 17 June 1775 John Trumbull, 1786

In military battles wrought with bloodshed, all have a vulnerability, and all deaths should therefore be treated with just as much disregard. Some, however, are elevated to the station of the glorious by their death on the field, as in the case of General Warren of the colonials. Hurt and gasping for his last breaths, his last moments are about to marred by the oncoming bayonet of a British soldier who is encouraged and aided in the act by a superior officer. Just before it reaches him, however, the hand of a man out of uniform stops the knife from taking him, allowing Warren to fade away at last by the compassion of his fellow brother without a uniform. One fact can change the truth of the whole piece; the fact that the man holding General Warren was his friend John Small, an officer in… the British army. Yes, in fact, John Small helped move his friend off of the battlefield for his final moments, which were short and not as emotionally charged. The author, however, wanted to convey the brotherhood of the men in the face of British cruelty, and he made sure that the uniform of John Small was omitted to give the impression that colonists saved one another from the brutish cruelty of the British, and that is the truth of the story as presented in this painting, a story that shows the heroism of America and the brutality of the British as inherent to the story of the Revolution.