Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Washington Monument - I

The city fathers of Philadelphia were embarrassed in 1824 when they were unable to show the visiting Marquis de Lafayette a single memorial to George Washington.

The Society of Cincinnati of Pennsylvania (an organization of descendants of officers who had served under Washington) began to raise money for a monument as early as 1810. Eventually the Society raised an estimated $250,000 (an enormous sum in the 19th century), and contracted with the well-known German sculptor, Rudolph Siemering. The monument was unveiled in 1897 at an entrance to Fairmont Park. With the completion of the Franklin Parkway, it was moved to its present location in Eakins Circle in 1926.

Washington Monument (Eakins Circle)
Washington Monument - Ericsson Fountain in foreground

Washington Monument - Museum of Art in background

At the top of the monument, General George Washington, in the uniform of the colonial army, is mounted on horseback, leading his countrymen and women in the battle for independence.

George Washington
George Washington (detail)

The equestrian Washington is on a high granite pedestal. The iconography of the pedestal is complex, and for modern viewers unaccustomed to getting their history lessons in a visual, sculpted medium, may be a confusing jumble that conveys very little. In what follows, I have just a sampling of the "message in the medium."

Two allegorical figures are on the front and back of the pedestal. On the front is an allegorical figure representing America. She has a cornucopia in one hand and a trident in the other. Chains have been cast off and she receives from her sons the trophies of her conquest. Below "America" is an eagle supporting the arms of the United States.


"America" - cornucopia (l) - olive branch of peace (r)

On the back side of the pedestal, America rouses her sons to a sense of their slavery.

More with the next post.

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