Thomas Cole's The Voyage Of Life: Manhood

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Thomas Cole’s The Voyage of Life: Manhood, embodies the stress and hardship associated with maturation, and the confusion and turmoil that one faces when transitioning from adolescence to adulthood. Painted in 1842, during the peak of Romanticism, the image depicts a fearful man, the Everyman, sailing down a roaring river surrounded by a gnarled tree and jagged rocks in a golden boat. A cliff hangs over the river, and the sky above is dark with only a small glimpse of light in the horizon. In the top left corner, the image of an angel penetrates the threatening clouds and watches over the man, though he does not notice her. Through his rendering of the stages of life, Cole demonstrates his ability to convey the common themes of adulthood through …show more content…

In his painting, Cole represents the trials and tribulations of adulthood with the navigation of turbulent rapids, rather than simply painting a man sitting with his hands clasped over his face who appears to be under stress. Another key point of Romanticism was the depiction of the vast power nature, which would commonly be communicated by incorporating storms into paintings. This is illustrated in Cole’s creation of a dark, violent sky, which frightens and essentially dominates Everyman, as he is seen pleading for survival. One particular element that set American Romantics apart from others was their love for painting landscapes which emphasized the beauty of their country and represented their enthusiasm for their young, developing country. I like to see Manhood as a landscape with a bit of added symbolism. For example, if Everyman and the angel were omitted from the picture, the painting would be left as a landscape containing many elements that are reminiscent of Cole’s other masterpieces such as The Oxbow or Landscape with Ruined Tower. The three of these paintings feature vast expanses of land, dark, stormy skies (in The Oxbow, the sky is only partially …show more content…

The patron of the series, Samuel Ward Sr., concocted the idea of an allegory chronicling man’s voyage of life. This commission greatly excited Cole, as he was tired of “painting simple landscape views with no higher message” (Kasson 42), and was eager to finally create a work which would draw a response from viewers regarding his ability to communicate “moral and religious message[s]” (Kasson 43). To go about adding such themes into his work, Cole “united two themes with a long iconographic history, pilgrimage and the theme of the stages of human life” (Kasson 44), which were two themes that did not usually mingle during his time. If an artist did choose to intertwine the two themes, they would have followed the “Bunyan Model” (Kasson 45) which derived from John Bunyan’s book, Pilfgrim’s Progress. In his model, Bunyan tells the story of a traveler that must “choose the right path” (kasson 45), while Cole’s series depicted a linear transition. Additionally, the Bunyan model includes a guide, while the angel in Cole’s series is “an unseen hand visible to the voyager only at the very end” (Kasson 45), suggesting a broader allowing for a broader interpretation of Everyman’s journey, and reinforcing the Christian theme

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