Image Analysis: Abraham Lincoln Writing the Emancipation Proclamation

Abraham Lincoln Writing the Emancipation Proclamation - Image Analysis

David Gilmore Blythe painted President Lincoln hard at work on the draft of the Proclamation of Freedom. The Emancipation was a complex issue. It required a great number of issues to be taken into account as it was highly politically charged. Blythe fills his painting will symbolism to illustrate his thoughts on Lincoln’s work on the proclamation. It’s a ‘busy’ painting with much to see in it. That, itself, says something of the amount of things that President Lincoln considered. 

In the image, below, there are 12 hotspots. These are tagged to important parts of the painting. Some of the hotspots provide you with information. Others ask you to think about the meaning of that element of the painting. Combined, the 12 hotspots help you to develop an understanding of Blythe’s views on the process. These are not the only 12 parts of the painting that suggest things about the period.

Further Analysis

Is the artist in favour of or against the idea of Emancipation? How do you know this?

Is the artist attempting to be realistic? If so, what has he done to achieve this? If not, why might he avoid realism? What does the image show to suggest that it isn’t an accurate portrayal?

Politically there was much for Lincoln to consider at the time. Which issues does the painting touch upon? Which issues doesn’t it illustrate?

What are the limitations of sources such as this for historians studying Abraham Lincoln’s presidency?

Like this image analysis exercise? Try these others:

Triumph through Death – Image analysis of a painting showing an area hit by the Black Death.

A Court for King Cholera – Famous Victorian image showing the conditions in which Cholera spread rapidly throughout Victorian Towns and Cities.

Infographic on the America Civil War

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