Of Arms and Artists: The American Revolution Through Painters' Eyes

Paul Staiti (Author)


A vibrant and original perspective on the American Revolution through the stories of the five great artists whose paintings animated the new American republic.

The images accompanying the founding of the United States--of honored Founders, dramatic battle scenes, and seminal moments--gave visual shape to Revolutionary events and symbolized an entirely new concept of leadership and government. Since then they have endured as indispensable icons, serving as historical documents and timeless reminders of the nation's unprecedented beginnings.

As Paul Staiti reveals in Of Arms and Artists, the lives of the five great American artists of the Revolutionary period--Charles Willson Peale, John Singleton Copley, John Trumbull, Benjamin West, and Gilbert Stuart--were every bit as eventful as those of the Founders with whom they continually interacted, and their works contributed mightily to America's founding spirit. Living in a time of breathtaking change, each in his own way came to grips with the history being made by turning to brushes and canvases, the results often eliciting awe and praise, and sometimes scorn. Ever since the passing of the last eyewitnesses to the Revolution, their imagery has connected Americans to 1776, allowing us to interpret and reinterpret the nation's beginning generation after generation. The collective stories of these five artists open a fresh window on the Revolutionary era, making more human the figures we have long honored as our Founders, and deepening our understanding of the whirlwind out of which the United States emerged.

Product Details

Bloomsbury Publishing PLC
Publish Date
October 18, 2016
6.5 X 1.2 X 9.4 inches | 1.6 pounds

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About the Author

Paul Staiti teaches at Mount Holyoke College and is the author of several books and essays on American artists. He has co-curated exhibitions at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. The recipient of three fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities and a two-time Senior Fellow at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Staiti has spoken internationally on the intersection of American art and history. He lives in South Hadley, Massachusetts.


"Of Arms and Artists brings those turbulent negotiations to volatile life, while delivering unexpected ironies as art historian Paul Staiti uncovers the stories of Trumbull and his fellow artists Charles Willson Peale, John Singleton Copley, Benjamin West and Gilbert Stuart. . . . Of Arms and Artists brings to life a war you may not know as well as you think you do--and artists whose idealism on canvas didn't always align with their private lives." - Washington Post

"Paul Staiti's book focuses on the men he calls 'the five great American artists of the late eighteenth century' Charles Willson Peale, Benjamin West, John Singleton Copley, John Trumbull and Gilbert Stuart. In Of Arms and Artists, their experience in and depictions of the Revolution provide an effect similar to a series of well-done portraits introduced by a knowledgeable guide." - Wall Street Journal

"This rich narrative focuses on the lives of painters Charles Willson Peale, Benjamin West, John Trumbull, and John Singleton Copley along with portraitist Gilbert Stuart. . . . VERDICT Highly recommended for those who want to learn about the American Revolution, art history, and message in medium." - starred review, Library Journal

"Staiti provides insightful, in-depth discussions of many key paintings, and the book is lavishly illustrated with illustrations and color plates. A lively, splendid history that captures the times with insight, acumen, and a juggler's finesse." - starred review, Kirkus

"In his rousing overture to this altogether exciting and innovative history of the American Revolution, professor of fine arts Staiti reminds us that patriotism requires a shared identity and shared values, and that this conceptual unity is created, in part, by powerful and heroic images. . . . . Staiti brings new vibrancy and meaning to boldly revolutionary paintings that both commemorate the suffering, conviction, and valor of a specific time and address the timeless struggle for justice and freedom." - starred review, Booklist

"Staiti skillfully shows how the Founding Fathers were attuned to the importance of visual art in constructing a public image and how they collaborated with artists to, ultimately, shape history. . . . History buffs and art lovers will enjoy Staiti's refreshing perspective." - Publishers Weekly

"Staiti has put both words and pictures together in a graceful book that helps us understand why the American Revolution looks the way it does. Of Arms and Artists sets a new standard for the fusion of art history and political narrative." - Joseph J. Ellis, author of THE QUARTET: ORCHESTRATING THE SECOND AMERICAN REVOLUTION

"Through an artful narrative Paul Staiti links the lives and works of these artists in intimate and fascinating detail. Of Arms and Artists is a delightful and informative tour through the family album of the American Revolution, and while the faces may be familiar, through Staiti's work we gain new insight into the character of the artists, the people they painted, and the cause of Revolution." - William M. Fowler, Jr., author of AMERICAN CRISIS