tv Images of George Washington CSPAN September 5, 2015 11:09pm-12:02am EDT
talks about images of george washington and the u.s. capitol rotunda, and explains how they convey sense of unity and power. the u.s. capital historical society hosted this 50 minute program. >> as the restoration of the dome advances toward its , thected completion date temporary alterations to its iconic appearance provoked reflection on the varied meaning within the realms of american political, cultural, and aesthetic discourse, past and present. despite the current political discord, a structure that has long visualized aspiration,
whether in a civic or religious context, conveys a sense of national unity and shared historic memory. these ideas are reiterated within the expense of the dome's exterior, a rotunda that functions as a ceremonial site, a public hall of the people, a vestibule leading to -- and a home of art and history. before examining the interaction, review of the dome is in order. while modest domes were known in the middle east, the large domes that symbolized power, authority, unity, and permanence in the west originate from roman prototypes such as the pantheon.
a temple to all the gods, constructed during the reign of the emperor hadrian. in the renaissance, there were different structural and engineering challenges. the cathedral of florence, which had a vertical structure, as opposed to the horizontal dome of the pantheon. the model proliferated in renaissance and baroque religious architecture. it was later adopted for civic structures as well, as seen here in this elevation drawing of the u.s. capitol post 1863 dome. the first dome adhered to the pantheon model. although never built as envisioned, george washington and thomas jefferson's advocacy of the design was instrumental in establishing the symbolic
importance of a dome for the legislative seat. under the residence act of 1790, the president was authorized to oversee the planning and building on the federal city. under british rule, the copula enhanced the visibility of buildings well identifying them as public. following the revolution, different architectural models
were needed to communicate the new political reality. and to express its abstract ideals, union, freedom, and independence, in concrete visual form. they were also intended to proclaim the validity of the u.s. on the world stage and convey the innovative nature of its political experiment well grounding it in historical precedent. the founders insistence on a domed capitol is easily understood.
while visually commanding and aesthetically pleasing, as george washington observed, quote a dome at the center of the edifice would give beauty and grandeur. the over arching contour served as a metaphor for the more perfect union the recently ratified constitution was intended to secure. as in a temple, church, mosque, or synagogue, the dome would bring together a community of believers. it would unite them in a civic
mission, albeit one with sacred religious overtones. well adopting greek and roman models to a modern context, jefferson and others schooled in the classics found the classical architecture vocabulary selectively reinterpreted within the context of 18th-century neoclassicism will suited to the task of nationbuilding. while the grandly scaled architectural forms and spaces of the capitol dome's interior encode the nation's ideals and aspirations, the items inside -- together, they visualize a narrative american history, culture, and politics as conceptualized at different moments in the nation's past.
apropos his stewardship of the new nation, and role in the building of the federal city, george washington is the historical figure who appears most frequently in the rotunda. in two of the four history paintings, a bronze cast. and in a fresco. he also appears in the surrender of cornwallis. which was begun but not complete by the time of his death. the relationship of these images to each other and the built environment that houses them warrants further exploration which this paper will provide by demonstrating how their form, content, and placement accord with the architectural transition from the lower earthbound section of the rotunda to the more cosmic orientation of its dome. the dress is the importance of roman precedents for these works of art in the overall scheme of the rotunda. 1824 marked the completion of the first dome, a double wood and copper structure whose exterior experience departed radically from the original
plan. the lower halting of the inner dome adhered more closely to his conception, resulting in a rotunda of the height and width that reproduced the proportions but not scale of the pantheon. with considerable input from trumbull, an amateur architect as well as painter, the walls were embellished with shallow framed niches. you can see here in the drawing. the relief panels above them, and tablature. there are scenes from america's colonial history. many of these elements were adapted from earlier plans for the rotunda. the trumbull paintings of
revolutionary war subjects were the first works commissioned as the capitol was rebuilt following the war of 1812. when they were installed, the canopy was as noted much lower and the focal point was a simple -- rather than the illusions the frescoists painted. when a taller cast iron dome was raised over the capitol in the 1860's, the dome currently undergoing restoration, the lower section of the rotunda was left largely intact. what changed was its relationship to the
architectural program evolving under the new dome. the first president figures most prominent in george washington resigning his commission. regarded as in exemplary act of patriotism, trumbull describes it as one of the highest moral lessons given to the world. his voluntary resignation of his military command and later the presidency referred to the well-known story of cincinnatus, a general who served his country in time of crisis and then relinquished power. in the painting, the play of light and fixed gazes of the witnesses to the scene direct our attention to the figure of washington.
centrally placed but elevated only slightly above the figures around him, he is depicted as heroic but also human. and is not yet ranked among the earthly gods as in later works of art. the realistic style, straightforward narrative, and balanced composition reinforce this view of its subject. at the same time, the composition echoes the lower section of the rotunda, bracketed by the parallel lines of the floor. and in tablature. as a three-dimensional freestanding object, he cast of the marble statue, located nearby, engages with its row needs and viewers in a different
manner. like trumbull's painting, it emphasizes the dignified and balanced composure, the formal upright stance of the subject. all understood as physical expressions of his moral character. whereas trumbull implied his status as the american cincinnatus, this coulter makes the connection implicit. the bundled rods that were a roman symbol of authority. in america, came to symbolize the union of the 13 original states. rather than a sword, he holds a walking cane.
a large plowshare signals the role of a gentleman farmer he returns to. aligned with the historic circumstances of his life, the calm bearing suggests more transcendent meanings. washington called the work a good likeness. the mixture of the real and ideal establish the model which has been reproduced in many forms from the 18th century to
the present. with regard to the model, probably one of the best-known examples would the the monumental painting of washington crossing the delaware. this familiarity obscures the radical nature of the statue when it was commissioned. when it was commissioned, there was no model for this. like the political structure, the statue, a result of collaboration between the
parisian artist, thomas jefferson, who was serving as minister to france, members of the virginia general assembly, and washington himself, adapted to classical precedents to suit american cased and helped shape a national iconography. we should note the agent references are reiterated by the placement in a temple like setting. albeit, a temple of liberty, as jefferson described it rather than one dedicated to a god or emperor. whoops. following his death in 1790 nine, his likeness became an object of veneration.
like ancient temples, shrines, and the statues they contained, facilitated the devotional interaction of image, viewer, and nation. as the elevated gaze and verticality of the facsimile direct the viewer upward -- echoing the transition from floor to dome, the sculptural dome facilitates our visual ascent towards the canopy as it shifts consideration from the earthly to cosmic realm. as in the pantheon, the sense of upward motion is reinforced by the vertical recession. following this trajectory, the viewer looks up literally and figuratively. where's the statue synthesized to real and ideal elements, the grandly scaled work pictures its subject in the heavens near the center of the dome's canopy
flanked by allegorical representations of fame and liberty. 13 maidens, symbolizing the 13 states, complete the fresco's inner circle. eight groups representing agriculture, commerce, and related endeavors form the outer circle and it is framed by stars. here we have a detail where you can see the figures of fame and liberty. of course, fame is blowing her trivet and liberty is wearing a cap. on this expensive surface, the artist dramatized washington's movement through time and space. in celebration of his ascent to the heavens.
here breezy, for example in the agriculture scene, a roman goddess. and another goddess, in conversation with ben franklin. this is a portrait of the architect, and robert fulton. while referencing precedents within the capital, many of latrobe's designs blended classical and american images and symbols. as head decorations for the corridors and other spaces.
their presence reminds us the concept of apotheosis, the elevation of a human to godlike status, derives from the ancient world. where roman statecraft exulted the ruler as a virtuous example for the living, to maximize the visibility of this model and indicate the subject's ascension to the heavenly realm, images of apotheosis replaced on elevated sites. here, you see the arch of titus. this is where the apotheosis of
titus -- you see a detail of it, where it is located. the sighting of the fresco accords with this convention. scenes of titus's mortal life. here we see the future emperor, headless. the scenes of his mortal life are placed in the lower section. and depict the subject in a more realistic fashion then above. as in the rotunda, this orchestration alludes to the
passage of time, life, and rebirth. showing the enshrined leader's earthly deeds as a prelude to his immortal status. these examples are didactic in nature, intended to teach specific lessons with the model they provide. although the concept and iconography refer to the roman world, its scale and visual complexity call to mind the baroque ceiling designs the artist would have known in italy prior to his 1852 immigration to
the u.s. we can note, for example, the glowing circles of light that indicate an opening of ceiling to sky in both frescoes. while recalling the placement of holy figures and religious images of resurrection, washington's centrality speaks to the secularized american context of the image and the subject's civic deification. they help to establish this. at the same time, it underscores the unifying power of washington. in the 1850's, and the aftermath of the war and lincoln's assassination, both of which occurred while the painting was being completed. a note on the subject of apotheosis. following his death, images of lincoln's apotheosis were widely seen. as seen here. the placement of the washington image at the apex of the dome speaks to the relationship between past and present elements within the capitol. following the president's death,
william thorton proposed a mausoleum showing the angel of immortality ready to take flight. it was not until 1832 that americans culture based in italy was commissioned to create a full-length pedestrian statue to be placed at the center of the rotunda, the head of which is derived from the french sculptor. here we see an example, following this directive. the completed work which we see here. reproduced in 19 century print sources. here we see an example of that. the result was an image of washington seated like the
jupiter. another likely source for this work was in 1806 painting of napoleon on his imperial throne. as stipulated, the face of the sculpture was derived in part from houdon's work. it also incorporated elements -- the cause of this eclectic mix of sources, ancient and modern, sculpted and painted, the statue was poorly received. it was displayed at the center of the rotunda from 1841 to 1843 and then removed to the east front of the capitol where it remained until 1908. the image of washington's deification in the canopy hovers over the former location. it was stayed over the planned burial place. two stories below the rotunda floor. a vertical progression you can see here in the sectional drawing. it recalls the design of roman honorific columns. the well-known example would be a column in rome. his ashes are in the lower section. scenes of his life, and on the top, a statue of the deified
emperor. this is what robert mills was referring to in his design for the washington monument. although the statue was outside the capital, when the fresco was painted, his work recalled his place in the narrative sequence in the rotunda. it traces the achievements of the earthly life and his elevation from earth to cosmos. mortality to immortality. the facial features in the painting, but you see here, resemble those of the sculpture. both convey a stern image of power and authority can to roman gods and leaders. as you see with the image of titus. it is echoing the earlier statue's gesture and facial features. it diverts in other ways. it avoided the controversy of partial nudity that plagued the ill-conceived statue. with the help of an architect and engineer, he concluded the actual and imagined commemorations. within the unique public and ceremonial space of the capitol rotunda, the interaction of art and architecture continues to play a key role in constructing an official if now contested view of american history and
politics. in shaping historical memory with regard to the persons and events. each of the 3 million plus annual visitors who engage with this space dissipate in its history and become momentarily actors on this national stage. while the grand narrative and great men focus of the rotunda is now mediated in other parts of the capitol, most notably emancipation hall and the westward expansion corridor, this more expensive history need not negate the role of leaders such as washington and the architectural and pictorial continuum of the rotunda. although the statue was outside
the capital, when the fresco was painted, his work recalled his place in the narrative sequence in the rotunda. it traces the achievements of the earthly life and his elevation from earth to cosmos. mortality to immortality. the facial features in the painting, but you see here, resemble those of the sculpture. both convey a stern image of power and authority can to roman gods and leaders. as you see with the image of titus. it is echoing the earlier statue's gesture and facial features. it diverts in other ways. it avoided the controversy of
partial nudity that plagued the ill-conceived statue. with the help of an architect and engineer, he concluded the actual and imagined commemorations. within the unique public and ceremonial space of the capitol rotunda, the interaction of art and architecture continues to play a key role in constructing an official if now contested view of american history and politics.
while the grand narrative and great men focus of the rotunda is now mediated in other parts of the capitol, most notably emancipation hall and the westward expansion corridor, this more expensive history need not negate the role of leaders such as washington and the architectural and pictorial continuum of the rotunda. thank you. [applause] debra: before we have questions, i wanted to show this as an addendum. the wonderful painting, just a wonderful visual sort of
wrestling with this whole idea of national mythmaking. so, do we have questions? observations, anything? yes, do we need the mic? >> you mentioned a little bit. is there it any record of what washington himself thought of everything toward the end of his life as they were building statues and paintings of him? what did he think? debra: he really approved the houdon statue and said it was a collaborative effort. houdon went to mount vernon and spent about a week.
he studied washington, it is a portrait from like. washington and is jefferson had specific ideas about they way they wanted themselves and an american leader to be portrayed. the quote about avoiding the servile. jefferson's famous quote about, i think a modern and ancient dress as ridiculous as hercules says they were very specific about the fact that they were adapting, appropriating from the ancient world, but this was a very different context. one other thing, in response to your question, about george
washington. i don't think he gets enough credit. he was very savvy about pr and constructing his own image. he knew he was going to be memorialized for posterity. he took an active part in that. he was definitely engaged, i think, in his own leg to see and securing that. yes? >> it is interesting since a lot of this work was commissioned, like trumbull's work, there is the issue of both historical accuracy and political
very specific terms. the dictated with the artist was supposed to do. i'm sorry, i can't hear you. >> the car sandstone and relief was completed when bulfinch was the architect of the capitol. he gave direction to these italian artists. i look at these. they are troubling when you consider what some of the subject matter is. i wondered, who approve this. who authorized it? from what i have learned, bulfinch had a lot of artistic control. debra: trumbull and bulfinch worked closely together. any other questions? >> i want to thank the society for bringing us together in this
space. debra: this is quite a grand space. >> washington was intended to be buried under the dome of the capitol. do you think -- just imagine if washington were buried there. how would that have changed the face we are talking about? the way people perceive it? debra: that is an interesting question. i haven't thought about it. it would have, the tomb would have an in the lower area. yeah, below the crypt. >> there is a place for napoleon is buried, even douglas mcarthur. if they weren't buried there, it would be different. imagine napoleon's tomb without napoleon. >> we're talking about the u.s.
which is so much more than a mausoleum. it is always going to be a point of pilgrimage. other factors would have come into play. one thing that might have been different, there was originally a very large opening in the center of the rotunda. the plan was that you were going to look down, i guess there would have been some sort of fencing or something, a railing where you could look and see below. a statue, a tomb. visible from the rotunda that had to be filled in. there were all sorts of problems in terms of humidity and heat. beyond that, i am not sure. that is an interesting idea to speculate. >> i am a little bit curious about the placement of the bronze cast. was it the first of the bronze cast to go in? or did it go in as a group of cast? >> each state has two statues. there was a plaster cast. i think it is the houdon statue. if you could --
>> i thought about that as well. the other thing to consider, the thomas jefferson. how that gift was homeless for a while and had been out of doors before it was moved into the rotunda. the intention in 1834 was it was going to be presented to congress and exhibited in the capital but it never had a permanent home. it was not until the 1870's it was brought back. in addendum to your question, the rotunda has served as a gallery for works of art. it is something else to consider and think about, the things that
are there permanently in relation to things on temporary display their. debra: you have washington and jefferson flanking the space. that is the narrative and acted there. the intention in 1834 was it was going to be presented to congress and exhibited in the capital but it never had a permanent home. it was not until the 1870's it was brought back.
in addendum to your question, the rotunda has served as a gallery for works of art. it is something else to consider and think about, the things that are there permanently in relation to things on temporary display their. debra: you have washington and jefferson flanking the space. that is the narrative and acted there. >> may i comment on the impact of putting the body into the
capital? we owe to thomas jefferson, who we are internally indebted to for stopping it from happening. it would have ruined his temple of the people. this was the legislature. it was not a place for idolizing in this case, the executive, or for that matter anybody else. i think it would have ruined the capital of the u.s.. debra: washington's heirs as well as many people didn't want it moved from mount vernon including the virginia assembly who gave the ultimate, this is not going to happen. it was finally resolved the body would stay in mount vernon. >> so thank you for giving us so
many opportunities to focus on the image of washington here. i had three questions related to that. what considerations went into the train him in the military uniform versus civilian? second, he looks like my grandmother with the thing over his lap. lastly, portrayal doesn't look like houdon to me, he looks like any founding father. debra: so what was the first again? as far as i know, he is following houdon's model. this is the way that washington was most often portrayed even after. this was one of his claims to fame. being the commander of the
american forces. it is something that lingers on past his actual term of service. i don't know why other than that just being the generally accepted mode. in terms of the rope, let me see if i can go back. let's see if we can, ah ha. i think that was kind of a compromise position. that is my own idea.
he is referring back to another work specifically. he has already undone the upper torso, covered that, because there was a lot of flack about the fact that he was partially nude. on the other hand, by putting a lap robe, i think that is, he is almost tipping his hat back. confirming this relationship between the images and that narrative sequence we were discussing. there may be other reasons for it, too. >> there are figures on either side, that may have factored into the decision.
by camouflaging lands, the focus is on the face. it is possible that was part of his what he was doing. debra: it unifies this part of the composition. it would have looked odd if washington had had on 18th-century clothes. the idea also is to integrate washington with the ancient and allegorical figures. the lap robe, and informal terms, is another way of giving them a little more oomph. well, i think the face looks very much like the faces of deified roman emperors and leaders. the idea is, with titus and other figures, once you have
been deified you do not look completely human anymore. there is still that human reference but you have entered a whole different realm of being at that point. you are not supposed to look like an ordinary human that would be seen in any kind of encounter. in that sense, the look on washington's face which refers directly to the earlier work, that is meant to differentiate his status from the status we see in the images in the lower part of the rotunda. it is 180 feet off the floor. how will you can see those features is a different matter. >> the portraits are far more
recognizable, the entire fresco. i think you are right that he approached the visage of washington differently to show there is a distinction between him and the other figures. those portraits look more lifelike. debra: washington is the star. everyone else is a supporting actor and actress. this is another way of
distinguishing him from that which surrounds him. >> you know the whereabouts of the statue after it was removed from the capitol grounds and before it was resurrected in the smithsonian? debra: it was in storage at the smithsonian for quite some time before it was finally put back on display again. it may have been in storage elsewhere as well. that i am not 100% sure about. the primary venue would certainly be the smithsonian, whether storage or on exhibit. >> i was wondering, it seems controversial or even contents us that in the chamber of the
house was in god we trust. in the rotunda, you are following roman traditions and roman beliefs. was there any contention between using these roman old-fashioned beliefs and christianity? debra: in terms of the founding fathers and early republic, i am sure there were objections in some quarters but in terms of the general direction, it seems to me they were quite well integrated. would you like to add anything? maybe the judeo-christian -- >> so like a jewish god?
i don't know. ken? ken and i and some of the others deal with the religious beliefs of the founding fathers, as evidenced not just in their public utterances but correspondents. we project too much overtly christian identity of these people. then again, it was so much a part of the everyday life that they would not necessarily call attention to it. it is fair to say they were not as rabidly religious as the average religious person today. debra: these are men of the enlightenment. they are coming out of the 18th-century tradition, intellectual tradition that is not necessarily discarding religion but elevating the rule of reason.
i think their idea of religion, certainly jefferson being a deist, or at least having deist beliefs, it is a much different view of religion than what we might think of. it was all kind of integrated seamlessly for them. any other questions? [applause] debra: thank you. [captioning performed by the national captioning institute, which is responsible for its caption content and accuracy. visit ncicap.org] [captions copyright national cable satellite corp. 2015]