Design and Symbolism
Lying between the north and south chambers is the central hall containing the solitary figure of Lincoln sitting in contemplation. The statue was carved by the Piccirilli brothers under the supervision of the sculptor, Daniel Chester French, and took four years to complete. Daniel Chester French devoted several years to researching Abraham Lincoln and studying photographs of him. French decided that the special qualities found in the sixteenth president were his strength combined with his compassionate nature. In what ways did French portray these characteristics in his statue? French depicted the president as a worn but strong individual who had endured many hardships. He positioned Lincoln's hands in a manner that displayed his two leading qualities. One of the president's hands is clenched, representing his strength and determination to see the war through to a successful conclusion. The other hand is a more open, slightly more relaxed hand representing his compassionate, warm nature.
By The Numbers
The statue, originally intended to be only 10 feet tall, was on further consideration enlarged so that it finally stood 19 feet tall from head to foot, the scale being such that if Lincoln were standing he would be 28 feet tall. The extreme width of the statue is the same as its height, 19 feet. The Georgia white marble sculpture weighs 175 tons and had to be shipped in 28 separate pieces. The statue rests upon an oblong pedestal of Tennessee marble 10 feet high, 16 feet wide, and 17 feet deep. Directly beneath this lies a platform of Tennessee marble 34 feet 5 inches long, 28 feet 1 inch wide, and 6 inches high. The statue is subtly bordered by two pilasters, one on each side. Between these pilasters and above Lincoln's head lies an engraved inscription.
Ranger Reflections: The Statue
Be awe-struck by Daniel Chester French’s enormous marble carving of our nation’s sixteenth president as Park Ranger Jerry Hawn wants to share some thoughts on the grand statue of Lincoln.
Hello. I’m Park Ranger Jerry Hawn of the National Mall and Memorial Parks. I want to tell you something of the grand statue of Lincoln.
As people pass the tall Colorado yule marble columns and enter the chamber of our nation’s memorial to Abraham Lincoln, they will, with little doubt, be awe-struck by Daniel Chester French’s enormous marble carving of our nation’s sixteenth president.
But what part of the Georgia marble figure draws the eye first? Possibly, the eye will go to the American flag wrapped behind Lincoln, a reminder of the nation that Lincoln was trying to preserve through the critical time of Civil War. Per chance, the sheer size of the statue is what is most striking to the eye. The statue, though, is made up of not just one stone, but 28 blocks placed together to make one figure, just like our nation and just as Lincoln believed, to be one nation, it takes all the states connected together to make the whole.
Maybe eyes attention will go to the rods wrapped together in the arms of Lincoln’s chair. The chair is just like the nation. It would not stand if any of the rods fell out. Lincoln wanted to keep the states bound together as one.
However, in final analysis, what might draw the eye most about the statue could be something as simple as his hands and these may tell us the most about who he was. Carl Sandberg, one of America’s greatest writers and one of Abraham Lincoln’s most well-known biographers, described Mr. Lincoln as a man of both steel and velvet. The hands that Mr. French carved seem to reflect Sandberg’s portrayal.
One hand is clinched in a manner depicting the notion of determination. Lincoln was determined to fight this war to its end regardless of the bloodshed that was going on. The other hand is open and relaxed. When the war was over, Lincoln wanted to bring the southern states back into the union in a peaceful way without revenge.
Lincoln may have been a great president because he held two sides to his personality.