"Washington Crossing the Styx"

Emanuel Got-Loose

The local New Jersey artist Got-Loose had been commissioned by Washington to immortalize the crossing of the Delaware on December 25, 1776 to attack the Hessian troops stationed at Trenton. Got-Loose, who had been trained in the finest classical schools on the Continent, felt that the commission was beneath him, not to mention the inconvenience of having to work on the holiday and the nuisance of setting up his easel on an ice floe. But he did what he could to record the event, even though Washington thought it was crazy to stand up in a moving boat simply for the dramatic effect. The guy with the flag fell in and delayed the attack a few minutes while he was rescued and thawed out. 


Once back in his studio, however, the artist was disappointed with what he called the lack of majesty and heroism in the painting. As he recorded in his diary, "Trenton, New Jersey and a bunch of guys in leaky boats isn't exactly the Battle of Anghiari or the Sack of Troy, now, is it?" 


Got-Loose decided to bring the painting closer to heroic norms by choosing a setting more in keeping with European classical tradition. He borrowed some local models and soon had Washington in a more appropriate milieu, crossing the Styx on his way to the city of Dis, as described in Dante's classic poem "The Inferno." 


Washington's public relations director was less than pleased with the altered canvas, and Got-Loose was required to produce another "straight" version of the event in order to get paid. Not much is known of the artist's later life as a painter of local events, although "Miss Downtown Camden, New Jersey 1802," whom Got-Loose depicted as "Danaë Seduced by a Shower of Gold," is known to be one of his later works, since it led to the artist being publicly horsewhipped by the girl's father. Another is "Brutus, Champion Bull, New Jersey State Fair, 1811" which features the Governor's nubile daughter as Europa sprawled across the beast in an exceedingly provocative manner, got him tarred and feathered.

 

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