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Summary and book reviews of Of Arms and Artists by Paul Staiti

Of Arms and Artists

The American Revolution Through Painters' Eyes

by Paul Staiti

Of Arms and Artists
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  • Published:
    Oct 2016, 400 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Emily-Jane Hills Orford

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Book Summary

A fascinating look at how the art world viewed the American Revolution, and how their work still effects the way we view those events today.

The images accompanying the founding of the United States--of honored Founders, dramatic battle scenes, and seminal moments--gave visual shape to Revolutionary events and symbolized an entirely new concept of leadership and government. Since then they have endured as indispensable icons, serving as historical documents and timeless reminders of the nation's unprecedented beginnings.

As Paul Staiti reveals in Of Arms and Artists, the lives of the five great American artists of the Revolutionary period--Charles Willson Peale, John Singleton Copley, John Trumbull, Benjamin West, and Gilbert Stuart--were every bit as eventful as those of the Founders with whom they continually interacted, and their works contributed mightily to America's founding spirit. Living in a time of breathtaking change, each in his own way came to grips with the history being made by turning to brushes and canvases, the results often eliciting awe and praise, and sometimes scorn. Ever since the passing of the last eyewitnesses to the Revolution, their imagery has connected Americans to 1776, allowing us to interpret and reinterpret the nation's beginning generation after generation. The collective stories of these five artists open a fresh window on the Revolutionary era, making more human the figures we have long honored as our Founders, and deepening our understanding of the whirlwind out of which the United States emerged.

1
Art and the American Revolution

Patriots in Revolutionary America were finally feeling optimistic in January of 1779. They had not forgotten the summer three years before when the British outmanned, outfought, and overwhelmed the Continental Army in New York, forcing General George Washington and his soldiers to flee, first to New Jersey and then to the banks of the Delaware River. They still had vivid memories of the invasion and occupation of Philadelphia, the capital city, in 1777, and the subsequent escape of the Second Continental Congress into the rural Pennsylvania countryside, followed by the wintering of Washington's army at Valley Forge, where unremitting disease, exposure, and malnutrition ravaged the soldiers, killing 2,500. In those years, America's future as an independent country was anything but auspicious.

But in 1778, history seemed to be turning in the Patriots' direction. Benjamin Franklin successfully persuaded France to forge a powerful ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Of Arms and Artists: The American Revolution Through Painters' Eyes presents another view of history. Art as history and propaganda, this is a vibrant presentation of the lives of artists, during and immediately after the American Revolution. A fascinating dissertation that will delight American history enthusiasts, academic historians and art historians, as well as general-interest readers.   (Reviewed by Emily-Jane Hills Orford).

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Media Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Staiti skillfully shows how the Founding Fathers were attuned to the importance of visual art in constructing a public image and how they collaborated with artists to, ultimately, shape history. . . . History buffs and art lovers will enjoy Staiti’s refreshing perspective.

Booklist

Starred Review. Staiti brings new vibrancy and meaning to boldly revolutionary paintings that both commemorate the suffering, conviction, and valor of a specific time and address the timeless struggle for justice and freedom.

Library Journal

Starred Review. Staiti offers an excellent look at an understudied topic: how the art world viewed the American Revolution ... By crafting an informative narrative, Staiti allows readers to learn what meaning can be interpreted from the visual medium ... Highly recommended.

Kirkus Reviews

Starred Review. A lively, splendid history that captures the times with insight, acumen, and a juggler's finesse.

Author Blurb Joseph J. Ellis, author of The Quartet: Orchestrating the Seacond American Revolution
Staiti has put both words and pictures together in a graceful book that helps us understand why the American Revolution looks the way it does. Of Arms and Artists sets a new standard for the fusion of art history and political narrative.

Author Blurb William M. Fowler, Jr., author of
Through an artful narrative Paul Staiti links the lives and works of these artists in intimate and fascinating detail. Of Arms and Artists is a delightful and informative tour through the family album of the American Revolution, and while the faces may be familiar, through Staiti's work we gain new insight into the character of the artists, the people they painted, and the cause of Revolution

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Beyond the Book

The American Academy of Arts and Sciences

Of Arms and Artists: The American Revolution Through Painters' Eyes focuses on the ideal of a country-in-making and how the arts helped educate and manipulate its political leanings. In this drive for perfection, there was a need, once the Revolution was a success, to continue the young country's unique standing in the world by establishing higher institutions of learning and study, including the now very prominent and highly revered, American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

John Adams The American Academy of Arts and Sciences in Cambridge Massachusetts, is one of the oldest learned societies and independent policy research centers in the United States of America. Founded in 1780, with John Adams (1735-1826) as one of its founding members, the ...

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