Civil War Regalia of Major Levi Gheen McCauley

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Civil War Regalia of Major Levi Gheen McCauley
George Cope
Oil on canvas
50 x 46 1/2 in.
The Art Institute of Chicago
Quinn E. Delaney and Chauncey and Marion McCormick funds; Wesley M. Dixon Endowment

This painting looks as realistic as a photograph, doesn’t it?  Can you see all the details of major McCauley’s regalia?  “Regalia” are things associated with the uniform of a soldier—badges, swords, belts, and decorations of all kinds. George Cope was commissioned by his friend and Civil War veteran Levi Gheen McCauley to make this painting. McCauley was a decorated—meaning he received medals—Civil War veteran. The artist created a balanced composition with McCauley’s two crossed swords, with a foot officer’s sword on the left and a cavalry saber on the right. Can you see the skillfully painted shadows behind the swords?  Above them he painted McCauley’s hat, a kepi, which is embroidered with the Seventh Pennsylvania Regiment insignia and the Fifth Army Corps badge, the Maltese Cross. McCauley’s leather belt and revolver holster dangle below, anchored by a canteen marked with the number “7”. Cope wrapped a tasseled purple sash around these objects to unify his arrangement. Two cherished post-war medals from the Grand Army of the Republic and Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States take a place of pride at the top of the painting. These military artifacts function as a kind of portrait of McCauley.

By the 1880s, American artists such as Cope often relied upon trompe l’oeil, or “tricks the eye,” painting techniques, to commemorate the war and its heroes. In this painting we are tricked into thinking that the aging military items shown are real objects and not just painted.

1. How does this painting function as a portrait? What does it tell us about major McCauley? Compare the painting to another commemorative portrait from the Remembering the War section of this website and discuss how each portrays its subject.

2. If you could have a portrait of yourself made like this one of Major McCauley, what items would you include to tell people about yourself?

Further reading:
Kelly, Sarah E. “The Civil War Regalia of Major Levi Gheen McCauley.” Art Institute of Chicago Museum Studies 30, no. 1 (2004): 20-21.

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