American Neoclassicism: George Washington and the Romans

Published: 2017-10-25 10:51:47
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Harvey Mudd College
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Artists have been drawn to sculpture great leaders throughout time. Such a leader that has been the focus of many artists was George Washington. There are two particular George Washington Sculptures that have caught the eye of many. One of these statues is by French artist Jean-Antoine Houdon, while the other is by the American artist Horatio Greenough. The two sculptures both make reference to the Roman republic in what is clearly not an accident but as a deliberate part of the artistic process.

In the sculpture by Jean-Antoine Houdon, Washington is dressed in contemporary attire. However, the artist deliberately adds several references to the Roman republic. Washington leans on columns known as fasces that are a Roman symbol of authority. The viewer can also see a plow behind Washington which signifies Cincinnatus a dictator during the war in the Roman Republic. Who then resigned and went back to his farm life after the war. This is clearly a symbol of a Roman Patrician.

Similarly, Horatio Greenough’s statue of George Washington also makes certain references to the Roman Republic. His statue, less subtly makes out Washington to be a soldier and a citizen who had saved the American people. The statue shows Washington dressed in a Toga which is an Ancient Roman way of dressing. The statue is also seen to wield a sword. Horatio received great criticism for his statue. The Toga meant that the chest of the Washington Statue would be left exposed. Many saw this as indecent with critics stating that he had borrowed too much from the European and Neoclassic styles of sculpturing. However, the sculpture is still on display today even after many of the members of congress at the time had suggested that it be thrown in the river (Seymour, 1948).  

References

Seymour, C. (January 01, 1948). Houdon's Washington at Mount Vernon re-examined.Gazette Des Beaux-Arts / Fondee Par Charles Blanc, 137-158.

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