Freemasonry, Thomas Cole and Nineteenth-Century American Landscape Painting
Issue: Vol 2 No. 1 (2011)
Subject Areas: Religious Studies
During the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, freemasonry’s network of grand and local lodges facilitated the development and popular dissemination of American art, attracting artists, critics and patrons alike. Freemasonry’s symbolism of nature and architecture particularly influenced the imagery of American landscape painting. The Hudson River School landscapist and freemason Thomas Cole (1801–1848) especially composed sublime mountainous views that drew upon masonry’s rich visual arsenal of hieroglyphic emblems. First publicized in New York newspapers by William Dunlap, a brother mason, Cole’s paintings captured the patronage of the Empire State’s masonic elite. Cole viewed the American wilderness as a sacred, architectural space revelatory of God’s Word. Inspired by Hudson River and Catskill Mountain views, Cole’s landscapes allude to the Herculean building of the Erie Canal, an engineering project that contemporary freemasons also likened to the building of Noah’s Ark.
Author: David Bjelajac