Mario Moore’s The Great Reckoning | Installed in Robertson Hall
Mario Moore arrived at Princeton University in fall 2018 as a Hodder Fellow and from 2019 to 2020 was a visiting faculty member in the Program in Visual Arts. During that time he created a series of full-length portraits of African American members of the University staff, representing those who support the daily life of the campus using the artistic format typically reserved for those with positions of institutional power. In his monumental work The Great Reckoning (2020–21), which was recently installed in the lobby of Robertson Hall, Moore calls on the familiar symbolism of history painting to expand the presence of Black narratives in public spaces.
The Great Reckoning depicts the artist’s ancestor Thomas Moore, a Black Union Army soldier who fought in the Civil War. He wears a sorrowful, resilient expression as he pulls away from a rearing white horse that is foaming at the mouth, its saddle ringed with spikes.
A parchment inscribed with Frederick Douglass’s 1863 speech imploring his fellow Black men to take up arms in service of the Union lies at Moore’s feet, a counterpart to the Confederate flag under the horse’s hooves. Between these dueling symbols are battlefields engulfed in smoke, while the flag of the United States hovers in the distant foothills. The monumental scale—the painting is seventeen feet across—and virtuosic brushwork set this work in the tradition of history paintings that stage events from the past as moralizing epics. Here, the artist invites us to consider the contested histories that link our pasts and present.
Moore offered this work for sale through his gallery on the condition that its buyer lend it to an institution where it would be on public display. Through the generosity of the Popkin Family, the Art Museum is pleased to have sited this in the University’s School of Public and International Affairs.