Thursday, March 22, 2012

German Print of USS Monitor

This is an 1862 lithograph of the ironclad warship USS Monitor, currently on display in the museum's gallery. It is significant not just because it is a contemporary print of one of the U.S. Navy's most famous warships. It is also significant because it demonstrates the international attention the warship received.

This lithograph was published by the Berlin-based publishing house of F. Sala and Company. Despite being based both in the heart of the Prussian Empire and in the nation that pioneered lithography, Sala frequently published prints showing Americans at war, at work, and at play.

Like many American prints of Monitor, the print has technical errors. The ship is out of proportion, thus providing a false sense of the ship's true size, and only shows one gun portal. Artistically, it differs from its American counterparts in significant ways. By using deep gray colors, the prints puts the "iron" in ironclad and brings a true feel of technology to the ship. Contrast the ship's metallic nature to the two wooden "90-day" gunboats in the background. Additionally, Monitor is not engaged in combat, but sits motionless.

The result is two very different interpretations of what Monitor meant. American prints typically portray Monitor as an armored knight, charging into combat against Virginia. The Sala print, however, presents Monitor as a technological war machine from the future.

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