Alexander Hamilton played a major role in my three-day retreat in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
As I wrote about here, I was nervous as I approached the Met on the morning of the retreat's first day. I literally started getting panicky as I crossed Central Park, feeling overwhelmed by the vast collection of the Met and worrying that I wouldn’t be able to structure my time well.
That’s when I pulled out the big guns: I put in my earbuds and started the soundtrack to the musical Hamilton. I got lost in the music. By the time I reached the museum, the Schuyler Sisters were belting, “History is happening in Manhattan and we just happen to be in the greatest city in the world!” I was ready to conquer the Met.
After a busy morning full of exploration, I sat in the American Art Café and entered the online lottery to win tickets to see Hamilton (I entered every day, and SPOILER ALERT I never won). As I dove back into the galleries, I turned a corner and who was staring back at me?
He stared off into the distance, with rosy cheeks, reflective eyes, and a slight smile. After Hamilton's ill-fated duel with Aaron Burr in 1804, there was a large demand for Hamilton portraits. This portrait is one of the replicas that John Trumbull made following Hamilton’s death, after a portrait he made when Hamilton was still alive.
I immediately put on my earbuds, and played the opening number of the musical. I gazed at Hamilton’s face, asking myself how a bastard, orphan, son of a whore and a Scotsman, dropped in the middle of a forgotten spot in the Caribbean by providence impoverished, in squalor, grew up to be a hero and a scholar.
Hamilton’s portrait is surrounded by other depictions of early America, from George Washington to bald eagles. I loved a bust-length personification of America as a youthful maiden wearing a diadem with thirteen stars.
Even though I was not able to see the musical during my time in New York, I was pleased to get to spend some time reflecting on Alexander Hamilton’s legacy and early American visual culture.
Address: 1000 Fifth Avenue, New York ∣ Opening hours: Sunday to Thursday from 10am to 5:30pm, Friday to Saturday from 10am to 9pm