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The Gods and George Washington

By July 8, 2009

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This might be slightly off-topic. For which I apologize. I'm working from limited material as I travel. Besides which, this is one of the odder collisions of religion and politics.

We all know what the US Capitol building looks like from the outside. From the inside, however, that distinctive dome is even more distinctive, thanks to a mid-19th century fresco that looks suspiciously like an Assumption of Mary image, except the person rising into heaven is George Washington. (You can view an image of the fresco here. Washington is in the six o'clock position.)

Instead of being attended to by angels and saints, he is attended by thirteen women meant to represent the thirteen colonies. Around the outer edge of the fresco are allegories of war, agriculture, commerce and so-forth through classical (i.e. Greek/Roman) deities granting leadership and instruction.

The use of classical deities is fairly common in Washington DC, as it is in neoclassical style in general. They are used as symbols rather than representatives of actual deities. But I have to say that placing George Washington among them ascending into the clouds is a truly bizarre combination, practically deifying Washington, which would undoubtedly horrify him.

July 13, 2009 at 2:47 pm
(1) J. M. Cornwell says:

George Washington is wearing a dress and sporting cleavage? That’s really odd.

July 13, 2009 at 3:07 pm
(2) Catherine Beyer says:

Ha ha! It does kind of look that way in that picture.

He does have something billowy covering his legs. I think it’s a robe or some such to make him look more classical.

On top he’s wearing an 18th century military coat with wide lapels just like how he’s depicted in several other images of him. You can just see the epaulets on his shoulders as well. The coat is dark and the lapels are lighter, which create the illusion of cleavage you mentioned.

July 14, 2009 at 7:37 pm
(3) Peter Clemente says:

And the whole production is surrounded by a ring of pentagrams, Stars. Depictions of Venus. How wonderfully Free Masonic.
You know if you wanted to push the envelope a bit you could say that was a depiction of the of the 13 colonies having been made sacred to Venus.

July 20, 2009 at 3:12 pm
(4) J. M. Cornwell says:

It’s easier to see in this view, but I have to question the logic and stylistic choice of giving Washington a skirt. To each his own vision. I wonder how Washington would have felt.

June 14, 2010 at 2:49 pm
(5) shawshank1 says:

Actually, the painting is called the Apotheosis, which means quite literally the ascension of man to a godlike state. Washington was a freemason, and this is one of the tenants of freemasonry. He was to become a god. The thirteen gods and godesses offer him technology. It is interesting to note that this is a common theme: Thirteen angels, gods, etc. Offering select men knowledge and technology. It is found in Egypt, among the Mayans, etc. The capitol building was fashioned after the Parthenon, a Grecian temple used to worship (you guessed it) the thirteen gods of Greece. Inside the rotunda in a hole in the ground, an eternal flame was lit, signifying the presence of the gods. The rotunda of the capitol also had this, though it is no longer used. You can still see it. There was once a statue of Washington in the rotunda where he sat half-nude on the throne of Zeuss. The statue is now in a museum, but you can see it online.

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