Copied Frederic Auguste Bartholdi, Liberty, ca. 1884, painted terra cotta and tin, 461211 in. (116.830.528.0 cm), Smithsonian American Art Museum, Transfer from the U.S. Capitol, XX76
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Artwork Details

ca. 1884
461211 in. (116.830.528.0 cm)
Credit Line
Transfer from the U.S. Capitol
Mediums Description
painted terra cotta and tin
  • Figure female
  • Study — sculpture model
  • Allegory — civic — liberty
  • Monument — statue — Statue of Liberty
Object Number

Artwork Description

Rising from a small island in New York Harbor, the Statue of Liberty was a gift from France in 1886 in honor of the friendship forged between two allies during the American Revolution. Liberty stands on a broken chain to symbolize victory over tyranny, a narrative that omits the millions of enslaved Africans forcibly brought to this land in the decades before and after the Revolution. Bartholdi delivered this small-scale model to the federal Capitol, where it was on view from 1884 until 1887. The monumental version was often characterized as a beacon of hope for millions of immigrants who sailed past it on the way to Ellis Island, where the U.S. government documented their arrival. Emma Lazarus's poem inscribed on the base proclaims America's welcome to all seeking a better life:

Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free . . .
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

Yet racist anti-immigration laws barred many from entering the country. The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 blocked immigrating laborers and prevented Chinese nationals already in the United States from becoming citizens. The law remained in effect for the next sixty years, profoundly shaping American immigration and citizenship.