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Liberty Displaying the Arts and Sciences

Liberty Displaying the Arts and Sciences (1792) is an oil-on-canvas painting by American artist Samuel Jennings.

The Library Company of Philadelphia, a private lending library founded in the mid-18th century, commissioned Jennings (an ex-Philadelphian relocated to London) to create a work depicting "the figure of Liberty (with her cap and proper Insignia) displaying the arts", as a representation of slavery and a symbol of the abolitionist movement.

Jennings's painting shows a blond, white Goddess of Liberty (with a liberty cap on a pike or spear) presenting books (the catalog of the Library Company, and two others, labeled "philosophy" and "agriculture") to three grateful, supplicant blacks (freed slaves). Surrounding the four figures, in the foreground, are various symbols of knowledge and learning: a bust, a scroll (labeled "geometry"), papers and columns (architecture); a globe (geography), a lyre and sheet music (music), and a paper with escutcheons on it (history and heraldry). In the background, former slaves are dancing and celebrating around a liberty pole; behind them is a ship on some body of water.

The work is the earliest American painting exant celebrating emancipation.

Sources

  • Nelson, Charmaine. "Hiram Powers's America: Shackles, Slaves, and the Racial Limits of Nineteenth-Century Identity." Canadian Review of American Studies. Volume 34, Number 2: 2004 (p. 167-183).
  • Library Company (official website)
  • Robert C. Smith. "Liberty Displaying the Arts and Sciences: A Philadelphia Allegory by Samuel Jennings." Winterthur Portfolio. Volume 2: 1965.
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