A great example of early American symbolism, this late 18th century gilt eagle wall plaque is shown perched on rocks, branches, and foliage. The eagle’s head and beak are arched and its wings are spread widely, with one pointed at attention. The entire carving retains its original thin layer of gilding. The half round eagle with outstretched wings reveals detailed and expert carving.
The eagle motif in décor and folk art has widely been used throughout much of US history. As America claimed independence from Great Britain, it struggled to find its own symbolism. Americans employed various symbols to portray the new nation until the Continental Congress officially decided on the bald eagle in 1782. Charles Thomson was tasked with designing the Great Seal; his design portrayed a bald eagle clutching thirteen arrows and an olive branch in its talons. The design quickly became popular and was replicated across American art.
The eagle itself is brimming with meaning. The choice of an eagle looks back to Ancient Rome, when the eagle symbolized overwhelming power and wisdom. An eagle with outstretched wings is a technique carried over from the old world’s heraldry eagles. This carved eagle features one wing tipped down, similar to the Germanic eagles, and one pointing upwards in presentation. The combo of the two wing directions is very unique and suggests that the plaque was created before the official Great Seal design was widely popular. Eagles in decorative and folk art became wildly popular and could be found on household items, such as butter packages, to furniture to silver. This deeply-rooted symbol is still relevant today and is closely tied to the idea of strength, freedom, and wisdom.
Overall the piece is in good condition considering age and use. The eagle is made of pine wood and decorated with gilt over gesso. With an open beak, the eagle is positioned over a fully outstretched wing on its right while perched on a rock. The reverse features the original hanging wire at the base of the head. Chips overall, especially around the wings, with some old in-painting where gilt is missing. Otherwise all materials are original. The front is partially worn from age and there are several stress cracks throughout, particularly on the proper right wing.
Dimensions: 28” H x 31” W x 5” D
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