Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The Federal Era – America in the Georgian Era

Although Jane Austen is forever associated with Regency England, she actually lived most of her life in the Georgian Era. In America, this time period is known by the much more democratic name of the Federal Period. During this time, a young nation looked to ancient civilizations for inspiration, and thus was born the Greek Revival in the United States.

An example of America’s enthusiasm for Greece, Rome, and Egypt can be seen in the names given to the cities established during this period: Troy, Attica, and Ithaca, New York, Alexandria, Virginia, Cincinnati, Ohio, and Athens and Rome, Georgia, among others. Its greatest and continuing impact can be seen in architecture. Country manor houses (see Jefferson's Monticello in Virginia above) were designed with Ionic and Doric columns and/or cupolas, such as the Washington Monument, the Lincoln and Jefferson Memorials, New York Public Library and just about every 19th Century and early 20th Century state house.

America’s enthusiasm for all things Classical is the only possible explanation for Greenough’s sculpture of George Washington in toga-like draping. Commissioned by the U.S. Congress in 1832 in honor of Washington’s 100th birthday, it was modeled on the statue of Zeus in the temple on Mount Olympus, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. But a half naked sculpture of a man who had led America in its darkest hours during the Revolution and who was its first president had a real ick factor to most who viewed it in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda.

Many Americans found the sight of a bare-chested Washington off-putting and even comical. According to the Smithsonian Press, “After the statue was relocated to the east lawn of the Capitol in 1843, some joked that Washington was desperately reaching for his clothes. In 1908, Greenough's statue finally came in from the cold, and Congress transferred it to the Smithsonian. It remained at the [Smithsonian] Castle until 1964, when it was moved to the new Museum of History and Technology (now the National Museum of American History). The marble Washington has held court on the second floor ever since.” The Father of His Country as a frat boy is a must see for anyone visiting the District of Columbia.


  1. LOL! Washington probably would have been horrified!

  2. At least he didn't have sagging pecs.

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