Lady Liberty and her Italian Family

Did you know that Lady Liberty’s ancestor is Italian? Follow us on this historical journey!

The carver of the most famous modern sculpture in the world is Amilcar Hasenfrantz, known by his pseudonym Frédéric-August Bartholdi. He was a French artist who lived and worked in the Nineteenth century. His most famous work is indeed Lady Liberty. The sculpture’s full name is Liberty Enlightening the World, and it was a gift the French gave to the United States in 1886. It immediately became the symbol of New York City and the entire country.

The construction of Lady Liberty has a winding and difficult story. Everything started in 1845 when Edouard Laboulaye pronounced the famous sentence: “If a monument should rise in the United States, as a memorial to their independence, I should think it only natural if it were built by united effort – a common work of both our nations, France and the United States”. This sentence inspired our sculptor, who decided to discuss his ideas with Laboulaye. 

At first, the project was not directed at the United States for all intents and purposes. Bartholdi initially decided to build a lighthouse for Port Said, in Egypt. In the original idea, the lighthouse was supposed to have the appearance of an Egyptian peasant woman holding a torch. It was inspired by the ancient Colossus of Rhodes, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. The story goes that the Colossus of Rhodes was a 32-meter sculpture portraying Aeolus, the Greek god of wind. Unfortunately, an earthquake caused it to collapse in 226 BC, so that – if we wanted to depict it – we could only rely on ancient tales and our imagination. 

For obvious reasons, Bartholdi could not see the Colossus of Rhodes in person, so he decided to go and see what most resembled it in size, which was the Colossus of San Carlo Borromeo. In Arona, a less-known Italian municipality, you can find this gargantuan statue, usually known as Sancarlone. 

Carlo Borromeo, commonly known today as Saint Charles, was cardinal and archbishop of the Catholic Church during the second half of the Sixteenth century. He was born in Arona, a town located on the touristic side of Lake Maggiore’s shores, in northern Italy. The Colossus project was built based on Cerano’s sketches. The statue was made by Siro Zanella and Bernardo Falconi and it was assembled with copper plates, hammered together, and attached with nails and iron rods. The statue was concluded in 1698, after seventy-four years of work, and it is 23,5 meters high.

In 1870, during a trip to the United States, the aims of the statue changed, and Bartholdi and Laboulaye decided to propose their idea to the US authorities, who willingly accepted. The statue was no longer going to be placed in Egypt but in New York.

Bartholdi, along with Gustave Eiffel, set himself the goal of doubling the height of the Italian Colossus, and he succeeded! Lady Liberty is in fact twice as tall as the Sancarlone, with her forty-six meters height.

If Bartholdi dealt with the making of the statue itself, Eiffel devoted himself to the support, which was designed with lattice-work columns and beams. Furthermore, Eiffel had the idea of isolating the cladding with asbestos impregnated in shellac, precisely to prevent the galvanic corrosion that would result from the contact of the various metals.

Initially, they thought of building the statue directly in the States, but Bartholdi opted for building it in France, reserving an entire worksite for its construction. After its realization, Lady Liberty would be disassembled for transport and later reassembled on Beldoe’s Island, known today as Liberty Island. That little island was government property, and – thanks to President Grant – it was not difficult to obtain the required permits to place the statue there. Lady Liberty was brought by sea in a small ship, which had to make several trips to transport everything.  

When Lady Liberty was finally brought to the United States, it did not actually have a plinth due to a lack of funds. With New York Times’ support, they were able to obtain the money through private funding. The statue was finally inaugurated on October 28, 1886, ten years after the initial project. It was not until 1924 that Lady Liberty was elevated to national monument status. Now that you’re in Italy, you could consider the idea of spending an entire weekend on Lake Maggiore and admiring the colossus that inspired the statue we keep in our hearts since our childhood. In addition to an in-depth study of art history, you could also enjoy breathtaking landscapes and – during the warm months – you could bathe in the lake, which is one of the major area attractions. 

By Bianca Tognini, ISI Florence | Student Life