ROWING INTO HISTORY: Washington Crossing The Delaware by Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze


A history painting is meant to chronicle a
significant moment or period of time, usually in the history of a country. It’s often associated with military battles
or political events. And what could be more iconic of the genre
than this painting, “Washington Crossing The Delaware,” by German-born American painter
Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze. By the winter of 1776, General George Washington’s
Continental Army had suffered a series of military defeats at the hands of the British. It was a brutal winter. Morale was low. Washington himself was doubtful about the
outcome of the war. That all changed with the Battle of Trenton. Christmas night Washington’s army secretly
crossed the Delaware River and attacked the British the next morning, literally catching
them with their breeches down. Following a brief but fierce battle, Washington
capturing two-thirds of enemy force, and the fortunes of the colonists did a quick about-face. Fast forward 74 years and countries throughout
Europe were going through their own revolutions, fighting for the same rights and ideals as
that of America before. Emanuel Leutze, now living in Germany, wanting
to spur the revolutionary fervor in Europe painted this immense work. The painting makes exceptional use of perspective
to guide the viewer into the scene. Also Leutze employs a pyramidal composition
device, which has been used so effectively in other paintings. The men on this boat represent a cross-section
of colonial America. Farmers, fishermen and trappers; people of
different nationalities, races and backgrounds. These are not professional soldiers, rather
they’re average men who believe in a cause. Along with two future presidents, Washington
and James Monroe. There are several historical mistakes with
the work. In such a small boat, Washington wouldn’t
be standing for fear of capsizing the vessel. Washington crossed at night; this appears
to be daylight, flag depicted wasn’t adopted until year. But what it lacks in historical accuracy,
it more than makes up for in revolutionary spirit.

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