The Emancipation Proclamation, with calligraphic portrait of Abraham Lincoln
Sheet: 71 × 56 cm (27 15/16 × 22 1/16 in.)
Medium or Technique
Not On View
Before the invention of the typewriter, beautiful handwriting was not just an elegant attainment, it was a marketable skill. In nineteenth-century America, there could be real money in providing examples of virtuosic penwork, both as objects in their own right and as advertisements to potential students. This extraordinary calligraphic portrait of Abraham Lincoln may be the most famous of all such pieces. The sixteenth president stares forcefully out at us, protected above by a fierce eagle, and surrounded by the seals of the various states and scenes from the Civil War, including the famous battle between the ironclads Monitor and Merrimac.
But look closely, for this is a verbal portrait of Lincoln as well as a visual one. The president’s visage is comprised of the text of the Emancipation Proclamation, the letters and words swelling and thinning to create a convincing portrait of the man. Here, Lincoln literally embodies his greatest achievement: the freeing of the slaves.
Rochester History Society, Rochester, NY; October 18, 2014, sold by the Rochester Historical Society at Cottone Auctions (lot 610), Geneseo, NY, to James Arsenault & Company, Arrowsic, ME; 2016, sold by Arsenault to the MFA. (Accession Date: January 18, 2017)
Ellen Kelleran Gardner Fund