Lately the Statue of liberty in New York has changed symbolism. It has reemerged in the media as a symbol of a divided West rather than a symbol of freedom. As today’s rightwing America is trying to rid itself of anything French, the “de-Frenching” of the Statue of Liberty, one of the pivotal symbols of American collective identity which was produced almost entirely with funds donated by the French, is proving to be an embarrassing task. But what if a connection between this statue and Iraq emerges and, with it, also, the fact that truth was hidden, intentionally or out of ignorance?
To give history justice, and to follow America’s “intellectual property” ideology, one should point to origins, particularly in times of armed conflict, when identities and monuments of material culture of the East are under threat.
The statue of liberty, its head in particular, has features amazingly similar to relief sculptures in the Iraqi City of Hatra, 110 km southwest of the city of Mosul. Stylistically, the feature of a head with spikes (the crown representing rays of sun) is almost identical in both the Statue of Liberty and Greco-Roman statues of Hatra, in Iraq. The visual connection to the sun can be further stressed in light of the ancient Arab, Assyrian, Hellenistic and Roman mixture of styles, manifested in the huge temple of the Sun God Shamash (“Shams” is sun in Arabic). The hairstyle, in relationship to the crown, and partially the facial features, appear to have been almost directly taken from statues at Hatra.
Following the stylistic thread, it would be most appropriate to search into the life of the sculptor who created the Statue of Liberty. The French sculptor Frédéric- August Bartholdi, 1834-1904, received training as an architect and studied painting in Paris. But is there any possibility that Bartholdi saw the statues at Hatra, before working on the Statue of Liberty?
Following Bartholdi’s travels, in the period just before working on the Statue of Liberty, we learn that Bartholdi came to the Middle East in 1855. In fact, some references point out the studious quality of Bartholdi’s second trip to Egypt in 1868, (construction of the statue began in France in 1875). In those days, Paris was in the midst of its Egyptomania, busy documenting Pharaonic art and meticulously adopting stylistic elements, especially of Pharaonic jewelry, for the making of Art Nouveau, which surfaced in the decades afterwards. Those days Egypt was the gateway to the rest of the Middle East, and Greater Syria was lumped up under the “travels to Egypt”
Bust from Hatra “Marén- goddess of the Sun”, in Iraq. Photo by & é E. Bonnier.
As the Pharaonic statues would have presented massive features, better fitting the works of Henry Moor than those of Bartholdi, it is more credible that Bartholdi’s inspirations came from the sculptures of Hatra, with their Arab-Greco-Roman mixed aesthetics, a style closer to the acceptable norms of the 19th century Europe.
To further explore Bartholdi’s sources of inspirations, another painter should be brought in: Jean-Leon Geréme é1824-1904. Geréme traveled regularly to the Near East, to work on his famous “Orientalist” paintings. Among Geréme’s companions to Egypt and “Asia Minor” in particular, was the sculptor Frédéric Bartholdi, who took a camera along, as well as the necessary apparatus for developing early photography. The use of Bartholdi’s photographs by Geréme, to master details of oriental architecture and slave markets, is well documented. But the use of those photographs by the photographer/sculptor himself, for the Statue of Liberty, remained something dormant in some attic or forgotten library in France or Iraq.
In America, high School students are given lessons to research the Statue of Liberty. Students are told things like “some people say: that the calm face of Miss Liberty looks like the face of Bartholdi’s wife who, as a girl, had posed for the statue. Others say the face takes after Bartholdi’s mother.”
The lessons also has definitions; Synonyms for the statue of liberty: “freedom”, Antonyms: “do as you are told”.
Wouldn’t be better if the students were told the truth?