November 9, 2017

Anonymous, Landing of the Pilgrims

Anonymous, Landing of the Pilgrims, 1840-1850, oil on canvas, 48 x 61 inches. Brigham Young University Museum of Art, gift of J. Earl and Elaine B. Garrett, 1978.

On November 9, 1620, the pilgrims aboard the Mayflower caught their first glimpse of land at Cape Cod, Massachusetts. The group—which included Protestant Separatists seeking religious freedom—had departed from England two months earlier and endured a turbulent voyage across the Atlantic Ocean.

In this solemn interpretation of the Mayflower’s arrival in the New World, the Pilgrims gather around their spiritual leader, William Brewster. With one arm raised in an act of blessing and the other holding a Bible, he appears as a modern-day Moses sanctioning God’s chosen people in the Promised Land. Wearing a suit of armor, Miles Standish stands to the left in a prayerful posture, symbolizing the Christian soldier ready to defend a holy cause. Others bow their heads or gaze heavenward, heightening the sense of piety and reverence. These religious overtones reflect the colonial view that the founding of the New World was a divine mission. Painted in the mid-1800s, such an image also fueled patriotism by alluding to Manifest Destiny—a prevalent belief that the United States was destined by God to expand across North America.

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