The discussion centers around French sculptor Frederic Auguste Bartholdi, the designer of the Statue of Liberty.
In the 1860s, long before the Statue of Liberty was constructed, he designed a statue of a female Egyptian peasant to be placed at the head of the Suez Canal.
The original sculpture, sketched out as a robed woman holding a torch, would be known as « Egypt Carrying the Light to Asia » to symbolize progress.
She would have been Arab, Michael Daly recently noted in The Daily Beast, which means she could have also been Muslim. But Bartholdi never got a chance to build the sculpture.
While some historians believe Bartholdi designed the Statue of Liberty for the US after he failed to sell that original idea of the peasant statue to Egypt — sort of as a last-ditch attempt at getting the project off the ground — others say that argument belittles both works and the two aren’t all that connected.
« Bartholdi remained determined to erect a colossus on the scale of the one in ancient Rhodes, » Daly writes, arguing in favor of the Statute of Liberty as essentially a ripoff. « He sailed to America with drawings of the Muslim woman transformed to the personification of Liberty. »
However, historians question the timeline, pointing to the fact Bartholdi originally drew up sketches for « Egypt Carrying the Light to Asia » in the 1860s. It wasn’t until 1885 that he brought the Statue of Liberty to the US.
« He went back to France and was there for about a year or so before he went to the United States, » Edward Berenson, professor of history at New York University and author of « The Statue of Liberty: A Transatlantic Story, » told Global News Canada. « He didn’t go directly from Egypt to the United States. »
It may only have been once he decided to immigrate to the United States that the idea popped back into his head, reimagined for an American context.
« Bartholdi took the sketches he had made for the Egyptian statue and changed them. He worked from that model, » Berenson told Global News.
In other words, Bartholdi certainly could have drawn inspiration from his earlier project in Egypt in bringing a new statue to America. But it’s less certain whether he did so as a way to avoid throwing out a complex project.
It may simply have been a design Bartholdi enjoyed, which he wanted to adapt in some form no matter where it stood.
Judge for yourself. The similarities are apparent, but does that mean The Statue of Liberty began as a Muslim peasant?
— The Appendix (@appendixjournal) June 15, 2014
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