Copper in the Arts

June 2011

Declaration of Independence Stone Copy on Copper

Declaration of Independence Declaration of Independence

Photograph courtesy of National Gallery of Art

Declaration of Independence: The Stone Copy presents a rare "Stone" copperplate facsimile of the historic document in the American galleries of the West Building of the National Gallery of Art, Washington, May 28 through September 5, 2011. Although originally created on stone, the document was recreated on copperplate in the early 1800s to ensure it's longevity in American history. On loan from David M. Rubenstein, this exhibition is one of only 31 existing copies of the original copperplate prints of the iconic Declaration of Independence.

On June 11, 1776, the Second Continental Congress appointed a committee of five to draft a statement asserting the American colonies' independence from Great Britain. John Adams and the other committee members agreed that Thomas Jefferson should undertake the task. On July 4, after debate and revision, Congress approved the document and soon ordered that the declaration be written large and legibly on parchment for official purposes, and signed by all members of Congress. The Declaration of Independence traveled with the young government to Philadelphia, New York, and other temporary capitals. After 1800, it was brought to the newly created seat of government in the District of Columbia. James Madison was president when Secretary of State James Monroe spirited the document across the river to Virginia for safekeeping during the British invasion of the capital in August 1814.

By 1820, the parchment scroll was suffering the effects of time and exposure. To preserve its appearance, Secretary of State John Quincy Adams commissioned a Washington engraver, William J. Stone, to create a facsimile version on parchment, complete with signatures, to become the official representation of the treasured document. More than three years of work went into the creation of the copperplate, noted as being "executed with the greatest exactness and fidelity." It is this engraving, two hundred copies of which were distributed to surviving signers, government officials, and others, which provided the image of the Declaration of Independence that has been accepted into the popular consciousness.

Resources:

National Gallery of Art, 4th St NW, Washington, DC, (202) 737-4215

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