"Birth of Venus" Engine Panel Painting

In the nineteenth century, volunteer fire companies often commissioned paintings to decorate their hand-pumped fire engines for parades, competitions, and community events. Sometimes framed with elaborate carvings, they adorned the tall air chamber located at the middle or rear of a pumper. The paintings would often feature patriotic, heroic, or allegorical images to associate the volunteer companies with these lofty ideals.
This fire engine panel painting came from the Americus Fire Engine Company No. 6 of New York, New York. The volunteer company was organized December 11, 1848 and disbanded on September 18, 1865 when it became Engine 15 in the paid Metropolitan Fire Department of New York. John Archibald Woodside Sr. painted The Birth of Venus around 1849. The painting depicts Venus arising from the waves, an image common among neoclassical paintings. Such neoclassical themes on panel paintings linked the new nation to the ancient ideals of liberty, democracy and prosperity. The use of neoclassical images also allowed artists to paint an idealized nude female form that would make their beloved engine especially eye-catching during parades. This painting and its companion (2005.0233.0303) adorned the company’s 1842 John Agnew hand-pumped engine.
Currently not on view
Object Name
painting, engine panel
date made
Woodside, John Archibald
Physical Description
wood (overall material)
oil paint (image material)
overall: 31 in x 25 in; 78.74 cm x 63.5 cm
Place Made
United States: Pennsylvania, Philadelphia
ID Number
accession number
catalog number
Fire Fighting
Cultures & Communities
Firefighting Collection
Engine Panel Paintings
See more items in
Home and Community Life: Fire Fighting and Law Enforcement
Engine Panel Paintings
Firefighting Collection
Data Source
National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center
Credit Line
Gift of CIGNA Museum and Art Collection
Additional Media

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