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.
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?
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 "Marân- goddess of the
Sun", in Iraq. Photo by &
© 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 Gerôme –1824-1904. Gerôme
traveled regularly to the Near East, to work on his
famous "Orientalist" paintings. Among Gerôme’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 Gerôme, 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.