Friday, 23 November 2012

Abe Lincoln Dragon Slayer – A True Story

There’s a lot to be thankful for on this (American) Thanksgiving weekend. Suppressing the dragon uprising for example...

[News: The Dragon Phylogeny is currently on sale ($9.99) at
Coming Jan 2013: Detailed analysis of the Dragon Phylogeny]

Lincoln Crushing the Dragon of Rebellion
David Gilmour Blythe, 1862
Oil on canvas, 18 x 22 inches
Abraham Lincoln was not just the 16th president of the United States, immortalized on the U.S. penny (yes they still have those for some reason) and over 50 postage stamps, a fictional vampire slayer, a patent holder (U.S. No. 6469), and the subject of a new Spielberg Movie. Good old Honest Abe can also add ‘dragon slayer’ to his considerable C.V.

In our ongoing search to build and expand the Dragon Phylogeny, we came across this gem by American artist David Gilmour Blythe (1815-1865). This oil on canvas painting from 1862 shows Lincoln about to lay the beat down on a nasty little dragon using nothing but a wooden maul. None of us have seen the Spielberg movie or read Doris Kearns Goodwin's biography yet, so we don’t know if this scene is mentioned, but it should be!

This painting is particularly interesting because it represents one of the relatively few cases of a New World dragon in a depiction predating 1923 – the cut-off date for inclusion the Dragon Phylogeny. There are also some morphological peculiarities that are not evident in most of the Old World dragons. In particular, the hoofed feet, fish-like or possibly serpentine scales, and brown patches resembling fur. It is within the average size of the European dragon of the same period and has a head morphology intermediate to the European and Oriental forms. Unfortunately this image was not included in the phylogeny because we weren’t sure whether it has four legs or just two – and number of legs is a key diagnostic characteristic in the analysis. But we thought it would be noteworth given the recent surge of interest in Lincoln’s life.

Apart from its physical appearance, this dragon has enormous strength, having just toppled a marble column with nothing but its tail. It also appears to have fire breath, given the burning building from which it has just emerged and the massive city fire in the background. Compared to Abe Lincoln’s chicken legs, the marble-smashing tail suggests that the dragon has vastly superior strength despite its size. Lincoln has the additional handicap of being chained to a wooden stump by Popeye the Leprechaun. Yet this dragon is about to get its ass handed to it. At least I presume this is the case since there is good historical evidence that Lincoln died <SPOILER ALERT> from a shot to the head </SPOILER> and not in the jaws of a dragon.

Actually, the painting is a sort of political commentary analogous to modern political cartoons albeit with more subtle critiques. The dragon represents the rebellion by the Confederate States, as suggested by the painting’s title “Lincoln Crushing the Dragon of Rebellion” and its destruction of the pillars of… I’m going to say America? The stump is also labelled with the inscription “democracy” and overlain with the Constitution. note how THEY ARE BOTH IN ALL-CAPS INDICATING THAT THEY ARE TO BE YELLED, maybe? Actually, this appears to be a critique of the constraints of the democratic process and the limits to presidential power that are perceived to be constraining Lincoln’s ability to supress the dragon of rebellion. The little Irish dude seems to be a caricature of the Irish immigrants, who at the time were criticized by the previously established WASPy immigrants. This is a bit awkward since the artist Blythe was himself a descendant of Scottish and Irish immigrants. The significance of the maul probably connects to Lincoln’s nickname ‘rail splitter’, which refers to his early job splitting logs to use as fence rails. It was a key title emphasizing Lincoln’s connect to the average American. Despite the connection, a massive sword would be a much better tool with which to smite a dragon.

Overall the painting has a rather odd aesthetic. Though the subject matter - dragon slaying - is inherently awesome, we are not really sure whether the Surrealism is intentional or a lack of attention to detail. On the other hand, we don't have any DFAs in our midst, so we could be wrong. But what is the significance of depicting Lincoln as albino-Skeletor with a crystal meth addiction? Well, let’s just say David Gilmour Blythe is no Jon McNaughton...

One Nation Under God
Jon McNaughton
Oil on Canvas, 2009

 Looking much better, Abe. Now tell that politician to get off his cell phone and talk to Jesus.

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