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How to Use the Images

 

Inquiry Question

Historical Context

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Readings

Photos 1 & 2
Photo 3

Activities

Table of
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Visual Evidence

Painting 1: The Declaration of Independence, 4 July 1776. Painted by John Trumbull, 1786-1820. [Painting 1] with link to larger image of painting
(Yale University Art Gallery. Trumbull Collection.)

Today, we take for granted that important events, political and other, are captured by photographs and/or television cameras. Sketches, paintings, and written descriptions were all that would have been available in the 18th century. Unfortunately, there are no known depictions of the State House Assembly Room created during the actual meetings of the Second Continental Congress or the Constitutional Convention.

John Trumbull began this painting in 1786 after consulting with Thomas Jefferson in Paris about what took place in the State House Assembly Room in July 1776. Trumbull's goal was to depict as accurately as possible the portraits of the men who played a part in creating the Declaration of Independence. He painted the majority of the 48 portraits from life between 1789 and 1794, and he copied the rest from existing portraits. As a result, most of the delegates appear older than they would have at the actual signing. Although the portraits are accurate, the setting and composition are more symbolic. The Assembly Room details, including the style of the chairs, draperies, and the military decorations on the wall do not depict the room as it actually appeared in 1776.

Questions for Painting 1

1. How many years after the event did Trumbull start his painting? What do you think were some of the challenges he faced in creating this work?

2. Why do you think Trumbull thought it was important to capture the portraits of these men? Why do you think it took so many years to complete this painting?

3. Based on what you learned in Reading 1, who are the five men standing at the center of the painting? Who do you think is seated in the chair at the right? Why might Trumbull have chosen to portray this scene?

4. Study the painting carefully. What feelings does it evoke for you?

5. Compare the design of the Assembly Room as it appears in the painting and in Photo 3. What are some of the differences? What might account for these differences?

* The small image on this screen will print poorly. You can obtain a larger version of Painting 1, but be aware that the file will take as much as 54 seconds to load with a 28.8K modem.

 

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