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1. This mountain appears in every painting of The Course of Empire. Here, Cole places it in the center of the composition, surrounded by storm clouds. Its powerful form suggests that nature is supreme in the savage state. The enormous boulder balanced on its peak may signify the precarious state of humankind in relation to all-powerful nature.
2. Cole's conception of "primitive" man is a nomadic hunter, with a bow and arrow, pursuing a deer.
3. A deer, injured by the man's arrow, attempts to flee. This is an indication of man's efforts to dominate nature, a theme played out in the subsequent paintings in the series.
4. This ghostly figure of a hunter is a pentimento (from the Italian word pentirsi, meaning "to repent"). This form reveals traces of a previous idea about the placement of figures in The Savage State. Cole changed his mind about this figure and painted it over, but now that the pigments have aged, evidence of the artist's original thoughts about the composition reappear.