Silk Embroidered "E Pluribus Unum" Eagle and Flag Textile

Presented is a patriotic embroidered silk textile from the late 19th to early 20th century. This truly unique, hand-sewn item features an eagle clutching an American flag in both talons while an “E Pluribus Unum” banner waves behind it. At one corner is a canon wrapped in a flag, US shield, and bundle of 13 arrows. The right corner prominently features an oval bust portrait of President George Washington. Red bullets, sprays of flowering holly, and crossed rifles complete the textile’s design. The design elements of the textile draw heavily from the imagery of the Great Seal of the United States.

The eagle motif in décor and folk art has been widely used throughout our nation's history, most notably as part of our Great Seal. The founders of the United States were fond of comparing their new republic with the Roman Republic, in which eagle imagery, usually the golden eagle, was prominent. On June 20, 1782, the Continental Congress adopted the design for the Great Seal of the United States depicting a bald eagle grasping 13 arrows and an olive branch with its talons.

When Charles Thomson put together the final design for the Great Seal, he placed a bundle of thirteen arrows in the eagle's left (sinister) talon. The official description specifies the bald eagle holding "in his sinister a bundle of thirteen arrows." The thirteen arrows are tightly aligned – a symbol of "strength in unity" that's found in the traditional cultures everywhere, from the Romans to the Iroquois— in this case a nod to the unity of the original 13 colonies. In this textile, the bundle of arrows is presented with a canon, a sign of military strength, and U. S. Shield at bottom left.

Swirling behind the spread-wing eagle is a green ribbon with the gold embroidered letters, "E Pluribus Unum". Latin for "Out of many, one”, “E Pluribus Unum” is a 13-letter traditional motto of the United States of America, also appearing on the Great Seal. The phrase suggests that out of many states, or colonies, emerges a single nation. Pierre Eugene du Simitiere suggested the 13-letter motto in 1776 to the committee of the Continental Congress responsible for developing the Great Seal. At the time of the American Revolution, the exact phrase appeared prominently on the title page of every issue of a popular periodical, The Gentleman's Magazine.

The textile's portrait of George Washington is based off the “Vaughan” 1795 oil-on-canvas portrait of the president by Gilbert Stuart. Gilbert Stuart was exclusively a portraitist; in his five-decade career, he produced well over 1100 pictures, less than ten of which were not likenesses. Of these portraits, nearly one-tenth are images of George Washington, to whom he was introduced by their mutual friend Chief Justice John Jay. Stuart's 104 known likenesses of the first president are named after the owners of Stuart's originals. This likeness is referred to as the “Vaughan” portrait of George Washington because Samuel Vaughan, a London merchant who was the president’s close friend, purchased the original oil portrait.


Embroidery on black silk, worked with silk and metallic threads. Examination of the textile’s back reveals that several sections- including the eagle, flag, portrait, and US. Shield- were crafted first and then sewn onto the silk. The flowering holly, canon, bullets, and “E Pluribus Unum” banner were directly embroidered onto the silk. The silk is in very good condition. All elements remain firmly attached, with very little fraying, rubbing, or loss to the fabric or embroidered elements. Color remains vibrant, with only slight fading of green elements. Textile measures roughly 21”H x 19 1/2”W.

The textile has been archivally mounted and framed with a dark grey linen spandrel and a beautiful beaded brushed gold frame. Framed dimensions: 29.5"H x 27"W x 2"D.

Related Items