Of Arms and Artists: The American Revolution through Painters’ Eyes

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: The American Revolution through Painters’ Eyes

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Paul Staiti

A vibrant and original perspective on the American Revolution through the stories of the five great artists whose paintings animated the new American republic. Charles Willson Peale, John Singleton Copley, Benjamin West, John Trumbull, and Gilbert Stuart lived and worked through an era of breathtaking historical change. Some were ardent patriots, some British sympathizers. Some had their careers made by the Revolution, others had theirs disrupted.


As Paul Staiti reveals in Of Arms and Artists, the lives of these five artists 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 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. They have endured as indispensable icons, serving as historical documents and timeless reminders of the nation's unprecedented beginnings. 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.




  • Hardcover
  • 400 pages
  • Published: 2016

Editorial Reviews

"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 18th 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

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