Look into her face and you might be surprised: Lady Liberty is cold and hard. She has a strong jaw and a long, geometric nose, broad at the top and straight all the way down. Her lips above a square chin are full but unsmiling—frowning, almost scowling, and bearing perhaps a hint of menace ... In her fascinating, digressive and relentlessly inquisitive study, Ms. Viano, an Italian historian, demonstrates that the statue is mysterious and full of surprises. She traces the statue’s origins and history, unraveling the distinct strands of its meaning but resisting the urge to write it off as a cipher open to all interpretations ... Ms. Viano goes too far in describing the monument as a kind of Trojan Horse gift to the Americans, full of French colonial perfume, but the thrust of her argument rings true: Lady Liberty is fiercer and far more complex than we ever knew.
Sentine, an exhaustive account of the origins of the Statue of Liberty, takes the reader back to a time—almost impossible to imagine now—when the great green lady did not preside over New York Harbour ... (Viano's) point is to draw attention to the statue’s 'hidden payload' of symbolism, but an argument can be made that any diplomatic gift carries such freight. It is an early indication that Sentinel could have done with some energetic editing, and not only because the book does not earn its 500-page length. A sharper focus would have better served her bid to uncover the motives of the men who made Liberty stand tall at the southern tip of Manhattan island.
Although Sentinel is based more in biography than aesthetics, Viano has done impressive art historical research. She suggests several iconographic sources of Liberty with her conversation-piece helmet and raised arm clutching a torch ... But while Liberty is a fine plastic example of the French conception of grandeur, Viano’s thesis is that, so far from being a cheerful present from one nation to another, she is, in fact, a subversive and occult statement. Liberty is an ‘ambivalent icon of colonial domination’. Indeed, beyond the easy-to-read symbolism, Liberty is exotic, even infernal. And as much anti-British in sentiment as she is pro-American, because Liberty represents competitive French interests ... This is superb scholarship, interpreted with an elegant touch and beautifully produced. Maybe it is a little overlong: Viano sometimes lets her erudition get the better of her taste for précis: so crowded into a single sentence are Pico della Mirandola, G.F. Creuzer, the Virgin Mary, Venus and Dionysus. I was almost disappointed not to find Huysmans, Donald Duck and Ronald Reagan involved as well.