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Historic painting of 1777 Saratoga battle was topic of concern during Capitol insurrection

Historic painting of 1777 Saratoga battle was topic of concern during Capitol insurrection

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The 'Surrender of General Burgoyne' painting

The 'Surrender of General Burgoyne' painting in the U.S. Capitol.

One of the most jarring pictures from last Wednesday’s insurgence at the Capitol, for many, was the image of a Florida man carrying House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s lectern as he waved at photographers.

The man holding the lectern, 36-year-old Adam Johnson, has since been charged.

But locals who saw the photo last week may not have been as worried about the lectern as they were about the 12-by-18-foot oil painting directly behind him.

The 1821 artwork, “Surrender of General Burgoyne,” is one of four artworks by historical painter John Trumbull that hang proudly in the Capitol’s rotunda.

But that painting in the photo holds a special place in the hearts of local historians — it depicts the aftermath of the Second Battle of Saratoga on Oct. 17, 1777, and shows British Lt. General John Burgoyne surrendering his sword to U.S. General Horatio Gates.

It was the first time in history that a British army had ever surrendered. And now that painting is intertwined with modern-day history.

“It brought tears to my eyes,” said Sean Kelleher, historian for the town of Saratoga. “But it was tears of concern that there’s an awful lot of important historical elements there in the U.S. Capitol. And you don’t want to lose any of them. That was my fear. And you sit at home, when you see these images, you’re totally helpless. Obviously, that type of an insurrection makes you worried about democracy. But there’s also a real care to stewardship and the elements within that Capitol.”

In 1817, Congress commissioned Trumbull to produce four paintings for the Capitol. Along with his Saratoga scene, which actually took place in what is now known as Schuylerville, Trumbull’s three other Revolutionary War paintings included the “Surrender of Lord Cornwallis,” “General George Washington Resigning His Commission,” and, most notably, his painting of the signing of the Declaration of Independence.


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