Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Declaration of Independence: The Stone Copy

Where: National Gallery of Art, West Building

When: through September 5, 2011

On the same day I went to see the Capitoline Venus, I also went to see this copy of the Declaration of Independence. It was created at the request of then Secretary of State John Quincy Adams
(who was not, contrary to current popular belief, a Founding Father). Adams realized that the original Declaration was showing signs of age and wear, and asked William J. Stone to create a facsimile. Of the 200 copies of this facsimile that were made and distributed to the living signers and other government officials, only 31 still survive.

Stone's original engraving is what is on display, in a small room filled, appropriately enough, with portraits by Gilbert Stuart, including pictures of the first five Presidents of the United States. Although the Continental Congress ordered that a large and legible copy of Jefferson's manuscript be made, I must say, reading the text was quite challenging. At my eye level were the signatures, and the famous and the forgotten are mixed in together, with John Hancock's name prominently at the top. Seeing this document, one remembers that the signers were taking their lives in their hands, and one is thankful they were willing to do so.

Verdict: Do make time to see this; although it's more history than art, it's a lovely item. Seeing this document and the Venus is quite easily managed in a lunch hour, and one will come away feeling it was time well spent.

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