tv Images of George Washington CSPAN January 30, 2016 7:00pm-8:01pm EST
>> you can >> coming up next on american history tv, deborah hansen, a virginia commonwealth art history professor, talks about images of george washington in the capitol rotunda. and explains how they convey a sense of national unity, power, and historical memory. u.s. capitol historical society posted this 50 minute program. debra: as the restoration of the dome of the u.s. capital advances towards its projected completion date at the end of 2016, the temporary alterations to its iconic appearance provoked reflection on the structured varied meaning within , the realms of american political, cultural, and aesthetic discourse, past and present. despite the current political
discord within the capital, a structure that has long visualized aspiration, whether communal belonging and protective enclosure, whether in a civic or religious context, still conveys a sense of national unity and shared historic memory as envisioned in the original plan and the subsequent renovations. these ideas are reiterated within the expense of the dome's exterior, a rotunda that continues to function as a ceremonial site, a public hall of the people, a vestibule leading to the congressional chambers, and in the words of benjamin latrope, pacific museum of -- a civic museum of art and history. before examining the
dome, a brief history 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 ancient roman prototypes such as the pantheon. a temple to all the gods, constructed during the reign of the emperor hadrian. in the renaissance, very different structural challenges. constructing his dome for the cathedral of florence. a vertically oriented double shell structure as opposed to hemispherical dome of the pantheon. the model proliferated in renaissance and baroque religious architecture. and was later adopted for civic structures as well, as seen here
walter's proposed drawing for the u.s. capitol dome. 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 new nation's legislative seat. under the residence act of 1790, the president was authorized to oversee the plan and building of the new federal city. under british rule, the copula attached to globcolonial structures enhanced the visibility of buildings well
identifying them as public buildings under the jurisdiction of the crown. 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. these forms were also intended to proclaim the validity of the states on the world stage and convey the innovative nature of its political experiment well while 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, "a dome at the center of the edifice would give beauty and grantor to the pile." 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 of the capital would bring together a community of believers. it would unite them in a civic mission, albeit one with sacred religious overtones. while adapting greek and roman models to a modern context, washington, jefferson, and their compatriots, all while schooled in the classics and keenly aware of the gravitas such represents imparted, they found architecture vocabulary selectively reinterpreted within the context of 18th-century neoclassicism will suited to the -- well 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 object and images within this space represent specific events and individuals who have been thought to embody those ideals. together, they visualize a official 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, and his capital, george washington is the historical figure who appears most frequently in the rotunda. in two of the four history paintings by john trumbull, a bronze cast of 18th-century neoclassicism, and iconic
statue. and the fresco of washington and a note that washington also appears in the surrender of cornwallis in the rotunda's pre-american history. it was not complete at the time of his death. the relationship of these images to each other, and to 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. secondarily, it addresses the importance of roman precedents for these works of art in the overall scheme of the rotunda.
1824 marked the completion of the capital's first dome, a double wood and copper structure whose exterior experience departed radically from the original plan. however, vaulting, 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. under the direction of architects, and 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 downing's drawing. the relief panels above them, and tablature. over the four doors, bar of these sculptures there are
pictures from american colonial history. and a note that many of these elements were adapted from earlier plans for the rotunda. with the release the trumbull , paintings of revolutionary war subjects were the first works of art commissioned as the capitol was rebuilt following chambersuction of its in the war war of 1812. when they were installed, the dome's canopy was as noted much lower and the focal point was a simple oculus rather than the illusions the frescoists painted. you can see them in that drawing. when a much 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 and pictorial program evolving under the new dome. while present in two of the four history paintings, the first president figures most prominent in george washington resigning his commission. regarded in the early republic as a particularly exemplary act ,f patriotism and selflessness trumbull describes it as one of the highest moral lessons given to the world. washington's voluntary resignation of his military command and later the presidency also referred to the well-known story of cincinnatus, a general of republican rome who served his country in time of crisis and then willingly relinquished power to farm and plow.
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 painting's realistic style, straightforward narrative, and balanced composition reinforce this view of its subject. at the same time, the horizontal format, as dictated by the shallow niche that contains it, echoes the direct focus of the lower section of the rotunda, bracketed by the parallel lines of the floor. and in tablature.
as a three-dimensional freestanding object at life cast of thenze marble statue of washington nearby engages with its row viewers in a different manner. like trumbull's painting, it emphasizes the dignified and balanced composure, the formal upright stance of the subject. all to be understood as physical expressions of his moral character. whereas trumbull implied his status as the american cincinnatus, by virtue of the narrative, they make this connection implicit. by including a number of symbolic objects. the sword is she and hangs beside him.
d ande sword is sheathe hangs beside him. rather than a sword, he had a walking cane. shows a gentleman farmer that he now returns to. while the symbols and subjects of military dress, which purposely avoid with washington appearance," aligned with the historic circumstances of his life, the nobility and calm bearing suggests more transcendent meanings. washington called the work a most exact likeness. the mixture of the real and
model whichished a has been reproduced in many guises and mediums from the 18th century to the present. with regard to the model, probably one of the best-known examples would be that of william lloyd, 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 in 1784, the is no precedence in intraying an american leader respect and admiration on both the world and national stages. like the nascent political resultre, which was the of extensive collaboration between the parisian artist,
thomas jefferson, who was serving as minister to france, members of the virginia general assembly, and washington himself, reframed and adapted to classical precedents to suit american cased and helped shape -- american taste and in doing so helped shape a national iconography. this is 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 washington's likeness became
an object of veneration. like ancient temples, shrines, and the statues they contained, facilitated the devotional interaction of image, viewer, community, and nation. as the elevated gaze and pronounced verticality of the facsimile direct the viewer upward, this desert hints at this function which is more fully realized in the fresco above. echoing the transition from floor to dome, the sculptural work facilitates our visual ascent towards the canopy as it shifts consideration from the earthly to cosmic realm. pantheon -- let me see here -- the upward motion is reinforced by the vertical recession.
following this trajectory, the viewer looks up literally and figuratively. to a very different portrayal of the first president. whereas the other statue synthesized to real and ideal elements to project him as a noble but still human, this 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 original states complete the , fresco's inner circle. figurall -- 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. more closely. of course, fame is blowing her trumpet, and liberty is wearing a fishing cap. on this expansive concave surface, the artist dramatized washington's movement through time and space as american figures mingle with agent roman gods and goddesses in celebration of his ascent to the heavens. here we see, and agriculture ,een, the roman goddess ceres and here is minerva in conversation with ben franklin. morse. samuel f. b. the portrait of walter, and this is walton.
while referencing precedents within the capital, many of latrobe's designs blended classical and american images and symbols, as had the earlier decorations for the senate corridors, community rims, and other spaces. their presence reminds us the concept of apotheosis, the posthumous elevation of a human to godlike status, derives from the ancient world. where roman statecraft exalted the deified 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 -- were placed on elevated sites such as the apex of a large hall.
here, you see the arch of titus. this is where the apotheosis of titus -- you see a detail of it, where it is located. right at the apex. in the sighting of burmese in the fresco accords with this convention. in the arch, scenes of titus's mortal life. here we see the future emperor, headless. but nonetheless, there he is in his chariot returning to rome after the conquest of judeo. the scenes of his mortal life are placed in the lower section. and depict the subject in a more realistic fashion then above. -- then the apotheosis seen above. as in the rotunda, this orchestration alludes to the passage of time, life, and rebirth. by showing the enshrined
leader's earthly deeds as a prelude to his now immortal status. these examples are didactic in nature, intended to teach very 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 united states. 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, and ascension, washington's
centrality in the canopy speaks to the secularized american context of the image and the subject's civic deification. within the fabric of the capital, city, and nation he helped to establish. at the same time, it underscores the unifying power of washington's image throughout the 19th century. in the 1850's, and the aftermath of the war and lincoln's assassination, both of which occurred as the painting was being completed in 1865. a note on the subject of apotheosis. following his death, images of lincoln's apotheosis were widely seen. as seen here. the two leaders were closely linked in the popular imagination and historical memory at this time.
the placement of washington 's 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. tured chief.ap 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 and the accessories to be left to the judgment of the artist. " sketches,reliminary here we see an example, following this directive. the completed work, which we see here. reproduced washington in a manner like the olympian zeus or jupiter as reproduced in 19th century print sources. here we see an example of that. the result was an image of the result was an image of "seated like the jupiter. and as near the colossal as image admits."
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. specifically the bust version we have already considered, it also incorporated elements from stewart's portrait. despite, or perhaps the cause of this eclectic mix of sources, ancient and modern, sculpted and painted, religious and monarchial 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.
ll's sculpture. it was stayed over the planned burial place. two stories below the rotunda floor. in a note, this elevation from tomb to attrition -- rotation to rotunda floor, a vertical progression you can see here in the sectional drawing. it calls the design of roman honorific columns. the most well-known example an,ld be that column of traj in rome. his ashes are in the lower section. scenes of his life, and on the top, a statue of the deified emperor. and this would seem to be the model that robert mills was referring to in his design for the washington monument.
in baltimore. although the statue was outside the capital, when the fresco was painted, his work recalled his place in the narrative sequence that was in the rotunda. it traces the achievements of washington's earthly life and his elevation from earth to cosmos. mortality to immortality. the facial features in the painting, but you see here, closely resemble those of the sculpture. those convey a stern image of power and authority can to roman -- akin roman gods and leaders. as you see with the image of
titus at the bottom of the slide. it is echoing the earlier statue's gesture and facial features. the painting diverges in others. most obviously, ringing regard to the upper torso and modern military dress. it so avoided the controversy of partial nudity that was among the numerous factors plaguing the white house. with the help of an architect walter and an engineer, they concluded the actual and imagined commemorations for the first president in the rotunda. within the unique public and ceremonial space of the capitol
rotunda. within the unique public and ceremonial space of the capitol 's rotunda, the interaction of art and architecture continues to play a key role in constructing an official if now also contested view of american culture, 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, who engage with and activate this space, participate with the 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 center in ther 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. and the capitol. thank you. [laughter] [applause] debra: before we have questions, i wanted to show this as an addendum. the wonderful painting, just a -- you know all know what it looks like. i want to show an image of it.
of course, the one dollar bill. some of the more contemporary derivations from the portrait, and grant was wonderful in 1939, the painting of carson weems, which is a wonderful visual, sort of wrestling and forefronting with the idea of national miss making. 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 particularly toward the end of his life as they were starting to build statues and paintings of him? what did he think? debra: he really approved the houdon statue and said it was a collaborative effort. houdon actually came to mount vernon and spent about a week with him there. he studied washington. it is a portrait from like. there is no doubt about that. washington and jefferson had very specific ideas about the way they wanted themselves and the idea of an american leader to be portrayed. washington -- he wanted to avoid the servile adherence to antiquity. 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, they were appropriating from the ancient world, but this was a very different context. one other thing about him in response to your question about george washington. i don't think he gets enough credit. he was very savvy about pr and about really constructing his own image. he obviously knew he was going to be memorialized for posterity. and he took a pretty active part in that. he was definitely engaged, i think, in his own legacy and securing that. yes? >> yes, it is interesting since a lot of this work was commissioned, like trumbull's
therend things like that, is always the issue in any depiction like that, the sculptor or the painting, of both historical accuracy as well as political correctness. who were the deciders? would there be a committee put together? or is this put in specifications for the contract? we have someone from the curator's office that might want to add something here . it generally was specified in the contract that was drawn up. and the committee and the library had a great deal of final say on these commissions. generally speaking, the contracts seem to have been adhered to. in this case, they were not.
there were very specific terms. they dictated what the artist was supposed to do. i can't say any of them had free reign when it came to the capitol. michelle might want to add something. >> [indiscernible] debra hanson: i can't hear you without the microphone. >> the relationship between various architects and artists. for example, the carved sandstone release was completed when bulfinch was the architect of the capitol. he really did give a lot of direction to the italian artists that carved the subjects. i look at these. they are troubling when you consider what some of the subject matter is. i wondered, well, who approved this? who authorized it?
from what i have been learning, bulfinch had a lot of artistic control at that point. debra: trumbull and bulfinch worked closely together. as did burmedy and thomas u. walter. no architect or artist worked alone. it was very collaborative. difficulty.t with , there is this continuum really of imaging and space that does enable -- other questions? yeah, first of all, i would like to thank the society for bringing us together in this space. debra: this is quite a grand space. >> for all kinds of reasons. washington was intended to be buried under the dome of the capitol.
and that did not happen. i will not go into that. -- how,k, what happened just imagine if washington were buried there. how would that have changed the space we are talking about? and the way people perceive it? debra: that is an interesting question. i haven't really thought about that. tomb't know -- still the would have been in the lower area. >> [indiscernible] debra hanson: yeah, below the crypt. >> where napoleon is buried, and all kinds of people, even douglas macarthur is buried in it. if they weren't buried there, it totally, it would be different. can you imagine napoleon's tomb without napoleon?
isra hanson: the capitol so much more than a mausoleum. it is always going to be this point of pilgrimage. other factors would have come into play. one thing that might have been different, originally there was a very large opening in the center of the rotunda. because the plan was that you were going to look down, i guess there would have been some sort of fencing or something, a railing that you are going to look down and see below. >> [indiscernible] debra hanson: a tomb, a statue. being able to be visible from the rotunda, but of course, that had to be filled in. there were all sorts of problems in terms of humidity and heat.
it was raining the paintings, that sort of thing. 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. of washington in the rotunda. when it came in was it the first , of the bronze cast to go in? or did it go in as a group of casts? each hanson: the virginia, state has two statues. there was a plaster cast. i think it is the houdon statue. a plaster cast that was in place before that. michelle, did you want? considerher thing to jeffersonnd thomas and how that gift was set for a
while and had been out of doors before it was moved into the rotunda. was it wason in 1834 going to be presented to congress and visiting the capitol. but it never had a permanent home. it was not until the 1870's that it was actually brought back to that space. that -- the rotunda has also served as a gallery for temporary exhibitions at large. it is something else to consider to think about, the things that are there permanently. in relation to the things that were on temporary display there. debra: you have washington and jefferson flanking the space. that definitely is the great --d narrative and acted
enacted there. >> may i comment on the impact washington's body into the capitol? 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 capitol of the u.s. if his body had been put there. debra: washington's heirs as well as many people didn't want the body removed from mount vernon including the virginia general assembly, who gave sort of the ultimate, this is not going to happen. i think it was finally resolved the body would stay in mount vernon.
yes? >> so, thank you for giving us so many opportunities to focus on the image of washington in the actual apotheosis. i had three questions related to that. the first is what considerations , went into portraying him in the military uniform versus civilian? second, he looks like my grandmother with the thing over his lap. [laughter] lastly, this is your chance to weigh in, the portrayal of washington does not look at all like houdon to me, he looks like any founding father. a general colonial guy. debra hanson: ok. so what was the first again? [laughter]
-- as far as i know, he is following houdon's model. know, and you know, this is the way that washington was most often portrayed even after. you know, this was sort of one of his chief claims to fame being the commander of the , american forces. it is something that lingers on past his actual term of service. and i don't know why other than that just being the generally accepted mode. of depicting him. room, -- inthe last the green room, that is a taupe. there we go.
i think that was kind of a compromise position. so this is just my own idea because, he is referring back to another work specifically. of undone iny sort terms of the upper torso, he covered that. he really got a lot of flack about the fact that he was partially nude. but on the other hand, by putting a lap robe, i think that is supposed to represent ancient roman garb, that is, he is almost tipping his hat back. sort of confirming this relationship between the images and that narrative sequence we were discussing. there may be other reasons for it, too. >> [indiscernible]
figures on either side? that could also be a factor in the decision. camouflaging, by lands, the focus is on the face. it is possible that was part of his artistic -- what he was doing. debra: it unifies this part of the composition. it would have looked odd if washington had had on 18th century, knickers or whatever. you are seeing that from above. the idea also is to integrate washington with the ancient and the allegorical figures. and so the lap robe, and in informal terms, is another way of giving them a little more
oomph. right, so. >> [indiscernible] debra hanson: well, i think the face looks very much like the zed, let's sayeosi 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 sort of realm of being at that point. so they don't -- you know, you are not supposed to look like an ordinary human that would be seen in any kind of encounter.
so in that sense, the look on washington space, which again does refer 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. and of course, it is 180 feet off the floor. so how well you can see those features is a different matter. >> the portraits that are more recognizable in the apotheosis mural, the entire fresco, i think you are right in that he approached the vestige of washington -- the visage of washington differently to show there is a distinction between him and the other figures. those portraits, i think look
, more lifelike. debra: washington is the star. right? everyone else in the apotheosis is supporting actor and actress. this is another way of distinguishing him, i think from , that which surrounds him. 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, yeah, 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. >> [indiscernible] debra hanson: yeah, the primary venue would certainly be the smithsonian, whether storage or
put back on exhibit. >> thank you for that lovely talk. ofseems a little controversy rsial, in the chamber of the house the words in god we trust. in the rotunda, you are borrowing a lot from roman traditions and roman beliefs. was there any contention between using these roman old-fashioned beliefs, and then christianity? i, in terms: well, of the founding fathers and the early republic, i am sure there were objections in some quarters , but in terms of the general sort of direction it seems to me , they were quite well integrated.
chuck would you like to add , anything? >> i am not sure it is christian. romans had god's. s. monarchy versus -- select jewish god's. s. 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 their correspondence and letters. we project may be too much in 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 in the documentation that has come down to us. it is fair to say they were not as rabidly religious as the average religious person today.
debra hanson: i think you have to realize or remember these are men of the enlightenment. they are coming out of the 18th century tradition, or intellectual tradition that is not necessarily discarding religion, but is elevating, you know, the rule of reason. i think their idea of religion, certainly washington -- being a deist and this having idea, or at least beliefs -- it is a much different view of religion than what we might think of. i do not think there is any problem. it was all kind of integrated pretty seamlessly for them. any other questions? [applause]
debra hanson: 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. 2016] you are watching american history tv, 48 hours of programming every weekend on c-span3. follow us on twitter at his been history for more information on the schedule and to keep up with the latest history news. 28 mark the 30th anniversary of the challenger space shuttle exposing that killed seven crewmembers. this weekend on reel america, we look at a nasa task force examining the cause of the accident. here is a preview. commander dick scobee, followed by [indiscernible] smith mcnair, pilot mike
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iowa caucuses. livell bring you pre-caucus coverage and take your phone calls and tweets and texts we will take you to a republican caucus on c-span and a democratic caucus on c-span2. catholic university professors stephen west talks about how former slaves experienced freedom after the civil war. he describes the role of the freedmen's bureau an attempt to curtail the freedom of former slaves. west: this is our first class about reconstruction. i want tfi