History, Art

"Statue of Liberty": the mother of dreamers

The national symbol that became a global representation of freedom

Beatriz Freitas
The Collector
Published in
6 min readNov 24, 2020


The "Statue of Liberty", located in New York, is possibly one of the world's most recognizable landmarks. Its magnitude transcended borders and time when it was solidified as a global symbol of freedom, hope, and democracy.

Photo: Jewish children, fleeing Nazi persecution, greet the Statue on board of the S.S. Harding — Via abcnews.go.com

The statue is strategically located in Liberty Island, where many ships arrived in the 19th and 20th centuries, boarding immigrants that fled their native countries to pursue a better and happier life overseas.

The idea for placing the monument in the bay was so dreamers, when arriving in America, could be welcomed not by a woman holding a light torch, but by Freedom itself. Even if ships are not the primary means of transportation nowadays, the symbolism behind this construction standstill, as a beacon of light to anyone in need.

This metaphor is translated perfectly by Emma Lazarus' poem, "The New Colossus", engraved on the statue's pedestal.

"Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

History and Construction:

The neoclassical sculpture was designed by Frederic-Auguste Bartholdi and Alexandre-Gustave Eiffel. To create a masterpiece of this size and resistance, Eiffel was responsible for building the iron and steel structure, while Bartholdi covered it with hammered copper sheets. When completed, the statue was given as a gift from the French to the American people, celebrating what both countries praise the most: freedom.

The bond between America and France dates back to the American Revolutionary War in 1773. On July 4th, the 13 colonies of America declared their independence from Great Britain, stating they would no longer tolerate the Crown's economic and political abuses.

The famous line of the preamble of the Declaration of Independence — "all men are created equal […] with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness" — states the core values upon which the Americans later built their governmental and social foundation.

Photo: The making of the Torch held by the Statue — Via statueofliberty.org

Inspired by this event and the Enlightenment theories, France beheaded their monarch 16 years later during the French Revolution, stating their own principles of Liberté, Égalité, and Fraternité.

So in 1886, as a celebration of the centenary of the American Declaration of Independence, France, along with the U.S., decided to build a monument to represent their joint desire to enlighten the world in a path of liberty and peace.

Fun Fact: Since the statue was built in France, the pieces were separated into 214 boxes for its voyage across the Atlantic. When in America, it took almost 16 months to put every part together and present it to the public.

Woman, Torch, and Book:

Historically, there have been other forms of art that represented Freedom as a woman. This choice could be related to the biological nature of nurturing and generating associated with women. Or because socially, women are perceived as fair, just, and moral and, therefore, wouldn't lead people voluntarily to acts of crime, violence, or corruption. Based on the mythological Greek goddess Nike, women are also allegorically represented as a symbol of victory.

Painting: "Liberty Leading the People" — via britannica.com

The canvas "Liberty Leading The People" shows a woman side by side with a child holding the French flag in the midst of a riot. Eugène Delacroix painted her as a brave woman that leads men to fight against King Charles's oppressions.

However, Bartholdi and Eiffel believed that Liberty shouldn't be represented as the result of a violent revolution but as a peaceful and lawful manner to achieve freedom. Therefore they portraited a fierce and rational woman holding elements that would sustain her ideals and purposes.

On her right hand, the statue lifts a torch, in which flames burn as a symbol of clarity and reason. This element is highly influenced by the enlightenment century, in which men started once again seen themselves as both creators and creations of their lives and societies.

Photo: Statue of Liberty — via AsiaticLeague/Flickr CC

On her left hand, she holds close to her chest a book of laws written on its cover "July 4th, 1776", the same date the American Declaration of Independence was ratified. It represents that freedom can only be achieved by a system that can protect it from brutality and tyranny, but it can also be a statement that knowledge is power.

Fun Fact: Some sources say originally the Statue was sketched inspired by felahin, farmer Egyptian woman. Others say the face of the Statue was based on the portrait of Bartholdi's mother.

Vest and Crown:

The vest she wears represents the same toga Etruscans and Roman used to wear in Classical Antiquity. Even though in the Roman Empire, togas were a non-verbal way of communicating someone's social and political status, the vestments carried no specific symbolism or differentiation in the Greek tradition.

Perhaps, the choice to dress Liberty in a simple and plain robe conveys that anyone, no matter their social, political, or economic conditions, could see themselves represented by this universal idea of freedom.

Photo: Statue of Liberty — via britannica.com

At first glance, the choice to dress the statue in a crown is paradoxical since many revolutions in the name of freedom were fought against monarchies. However, according to enlightenment philosopher Immanuel Kant, one can only be considered free when he or she acts according to their own moral conscience. In other words, when one becomes king or queen of its own kingdom.

Sculpting one of the most famous U.S. landmarks wearing a symbol of royalty reinforces the separation between the British monarchy and its former colony. Now, America would be able to rule and obey according to its own beliefs.

If we look closely at the crown, the seven spikes represent the seven continents and seven seas in the world. Each spike points in a different direction, almost like rays of sunshine, symbolizing that freedom is a value that should be sought by everyone everywhere.

Pilar and Shackles:

The statue itself stands upon 13 pillars, representing the founding colonies responsible for breaking free from the British empire. This episode, along with the values cherished by the Declaration of Independence, provided the basis for Americans to build one of the world's oldest democracies.

Historically America wasn't, as still isn't, a country where its people are completely free. After the American Civil War and the signature of the 13th Amendment, during the mandate of President Abraham Lincoln, slavery was abolished in America’s territory and any other under its jurisdiction. This event made it possible for freedom to be legally extended to all citizens.

Photo: Statue of Liberty — via nps.gov

The shackles and chains broken by the statue's feet represent a wider and truer form of democracy that pledged freedom to all, not only some.

However, the scenario envisioned by the artists is still not a reality since America is a country that restrains freedom through systemic racism to a few privileged ethnicities. Maybe in the future, the country named the "land of the free" can truly be a democracy "of the people, by the people, for the people".



Beatriz Freitas
The Collector

Brazilian. Fourth-year medical student. Love arts and social science.