Washington Crossing the Delaware

washington crossing the delaware

Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Visual_art_of_the_United_States#mediaviewer/File:Washington_Crossing_the_Delaware_by_Emanuel_Leutze,_MMA-NYC,_1851.jpg, currently located at The Metropolitan Museum of Art and was painted by Emmanuel Leutze circa 1851

This painting depicts General Washington leading his troops across the partially frozen Delaware River of New Jersey to attack a Hessian encampment. It is clear that the artist, Emmanuel Leutze, wants to imply that this was a positive action. This is seen when one looks at the bright light surrounding General Washington’s face, in addition to the pose that Washington maintains with his straight back and head held high. There are many other instances found in this painting that would imply that those depicted in this painting are committing a noble and beneficial act, such as the treacherous conditions. However, when one looks at the context of the mission that these men were carrying, it is inevitable that one would arrive at the conclusion that this is barely a noble undertaking at all. What is actually happening here is that General Washington is leading an assault on a Hessian base on the dawn of Christmas Day. The plan was that Washington had hoped his enemies would be too hungover and inebriated from the previous evening (Christmas Eve) festivities to properly mount a decent defense. And this is exactly what happened, these supposedly noble individuals depicted in this painting slaughtered the Hessians, many of whom were still asleep, and barely took any prisoners. This cowardly assault took advantage of their enemies moral and religious devotions, it was based on what we would consider foul play and is not something modern americans don’t want to acknowledge, primarily because we look down on this sort of behavior in war.

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4 thoughts on “Washington Crossing the Delaware”

  1. The light on in the background definitely can be seen as a symbol of hope and glory. It seems that the artist wanted viewers to remember Washtington’s undertaking with reverence and pride, which to this day, has been true for many viewers. I do agree, that the true nature of this assault was less than honorable, however I do not think that it was cowardly. The colonials lacked numbers, supplies, and skills when compared to their enemies. It is only natural for Washington and his troops to be opportunistic, therefore they seized the chance to make an easy attack on the Hessians.

  2. I’ve always enjoyed this painting regardless of it’s romantic features. By no means was Washington’s crossing actually magnificent or picturesque, but he wanted the nation to view it as such. The greatest attribute George Washington possessed was inspiring others, and the Battle of Trenton was his shining moment. This painting clearly reflects that as he and his men are portrayed as glorious heroes. As far as a cowardly attack goes, all is fair in love and war. In order to fight for reforms or a new set of unalienable rights, rules have to be broken.

  3. I love this painting as well and find it fascinating that an artist can manipulate the audience’s perception of what happened by only showing one point of view.

  4. I find your interpretation of Washington’s Christmas Day attack very interesting. I do not agree it’s “inevitable” that everyone who looks at the painting will come to the same conclusion as you. In fact, most Americans cite the guerrilla warfare used to win the Revolutionary War as necessary and justified, myself included. It is a well received opinion that without guerrilla warfare the United States would likely never have won any significant battles and therefore never gained France’s support and eventually their own independence. Do you agree with this view? If guerrilla warfare was cowardly, what other solutions did Americans have to gain independence? Should they just have accepted defeat? Basically – were Washington’s techniques to win the war worth America’s independence?

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