The construction of the statue
The statue of “Liberty enlightening the world” is one of the most known monuments, the most famous work of Auguste Bartholdi and a major technical realization of the 19th century. It was given by France to the United States to commemorate the centenary of the country independence and French-American friendship during and after the colonization.
Bartholdi spotted the ideal site for the erection of the statue during his first stay in the United States in 1871. It was Bedloe Island (today Liberty Island) in New York harbour for a not yet finished project. It was achieved in 1875, but its designers had come to an agreement about the exceptional dimensions of the structure and were conscious of the difficulties linked to its realization and financing. A French-American committee was set up to divide the task, to follow the works and collect the funds. France took care of the construction of the statue itself while the United States had to do the base.
The first task of Bartholdi was to engage an architectural engineer to resolve the technical problems, in particular those linked to the stability of a 46 metres high statue, its form and its support. He first turned to Eugène Viollet-le-Duc (1814-1879) who gave the statue its final form and drape notably. When Viollet-le-Duc died in 1879 without leaving plans to bring together the statue parts, the work had to stop. Then, Bartholdi called Gustave Eiffel (1832-1923) who proposed an openwork and light metallic skeleton on which previously hammered copper envelopes were one by one suspended. The structure prefigured the one used for the skyscrapers construction.
The work was finished in 1884 and erected in the courtyard of the construction workshops of Gaget and Gauthier in Paris. The official ceremony took place on July 4th and Victor Hugo came some time after to greet the Parisian culmination of “liberty”.
The statue was next dismantled and transported by train and boat to New York. The spouses of Bartholdi and Gaget as well as other personalities were on the trip. Set into a 27 metres high base 1 constructed and financed by the United States, the statue was inaugurated on October 28th 1886.
Liberty and light
The statue echoes the picture of the Roman goddess Libertas, divinity of liberty.
She is represented under the apparent display of a feminine figure, clothed in an ample dress with numerous pleats and topped by a seven spike crown. She is holding aloft a torch in her right hand and carrying a book of laws in her left one on which is engraved the date of the independence of the United States in Roman numerals (July IV MDCCLXXVI).
The seven spikes of the crown decorating the head 2 evoke the sun rays. Indeed, the seven spikes symbolize the seven rays of the rainbow. It is composed of the three primary colours (red, yellow, blue), of their complement (green, orange, purple) and of the seventh colour that contains all of them, white. For more details, see the colours of the rainbow.
Since white contains the whole visible light spectrum, it symbolizes the unity of the manifestation of colours in particular and of any thing in general. Now, the unity can only be represented by a point of the sagittal plan dividing the body of the personage into complementary halves. It follows that the central spike symbolizes the white light or unity and the lateral spikes its manifestation into complementary colours or terms such as right and left, clarity and obscurity etc.
The right/left polarization is in close relation with the statue orientation. In fact, the last one is facing Europe and, more deeply, East, the direction from which light is emerging from obscurity. The personage has consequently South or light on her right and North or obscurity on her left. It is therefore natural that the right hand carries the torch and the left one the book of laws. The flame of the luminous world lights up the laws that govern the relationships between the beings of the obscure world.
During his existence the being can wander in the obscurity of the terrestrial world or turn towards the light of the celestial world. A light that lights the being himself and the surrounding world as well.
The choice of the orientation turned towards East favours light and South or the right (for more details, see the Eastern mode). Deliberate or not, this choice echoes the Egyptian tradition at the origin of many symbols of the New World.
- René Guénon:
- “The multiple states of the being”. Sophia Perennis Publisher, 2002;
- Particularly, the last chapter entitled “Metaphysical notion of freedom”.
1 back Placed on foundations 20 metres deep, the monument is not 93 (20 + 27 + 46) metres high as generally asserted, but 73 (27 + 46) metres “only”!
2 back In number of references, the seven spikes are sensible to represent the seven continents (sic).