Monday, November 19, 2012

We Really Need to Talk About The Apotheosis of Washington

Most intelligent Americans realize that our nation’s supposed separation of church and state doesn’t always hold up. After all, religion — Christianity in particular — often seeps into politics in a way that our forefathers either would have hated or been cool with, depending on whom you ask, but also don’t ask because that conversation will likely be endless and involve a lot of emphatic hand gestures. For a moment, however, disregard all the imaginary lines people like to paint between church and state, because there’s one aspect of Washington D.C. that would make both atheists and bible-thumpers respond with “huh?” And this thing is The Apotheosis of Washington.

via the capitol’s official flickr page; see a slideshow of details here.
I toured the Capitol Building when I was a kid, and if this work of art was included, our guide downplayed its whackadoo nature. I only recently had it pointed out to me in terms of how strange it is. Apotheosis, please understand, can have two meanings — either “the perfect example,” as in Webster’s example of “the apotheosis of the picaresque novel,” or a more literal meaning, “deification.” But doesn’t it seem strange to deify the guy who conceded that people should address the American head of state as “Mr. President” instead of anything loftier or monarchical? That’s nonetheless what this 1865 fresco depicts: George Washington riding clouds in heaven, styled like a character from classical mythology and flanked by personifications of victory and liberty. Scattered around the rim of this circular painting are founding fathers and Roman gods, side by side, in tableaus depicting war, science, commerce, mechanics, agriculture and, um, marine. (Yes, makes for a weird parallel construction in the style of running, dancing, leaping, purple and lobster.)

I find this all very strange, not only because the artist, the Italian-born Constantino Brumidi, began painting it the year Abraham Lincoln was assassinated and therefore during a time when the nation had other concerns. It’s also the subject matter itself, and it makes it no less weird to me to know that Brumidi wasn’t the only artist to give George the god treatment. That actually makes it even stranger in that this didn’t result from one crazy person’s idea but an aesthetic trend that a whole lot of people were willing to run with. However, there’s little I can say about it from my computer in my apartment which is not located in the Capitol rotunda, so here are some selections from other write-ups on The Apotheosis of Washington, whose matter-of-fact descriptions of all this religious kookiness verge on the surreal:
  • Gazing upward to the dome, one sees Washington floating far overhead, a life-sized and heavenly vision.1
  • The peak of a rainbow’s arch passes beneath his feet, and there are thirteen maidens aside the central three figures (Washington, Liberty, and Victory) that represent the original thirteen states.2
  • Surrounding Washington, Victory, and Liberty in a circle are 13 maidens who represent the original 13 colonies that formed the federation of the United States. Some of them are holding a banner which says E Pluribus Unum, but others have their backs turned towards Washington to indicate those states which attempted to break away from the union during the Civil War.3
  • Ceres, Roman goddess of agriculture, is identified by the wheat wreath on her head and a cornucopia. She is seated on a McCormack reaper.4
  • [In the “war” scene,] Brumidi may have expressed his own political feelings by using the features of the Confederate leaders on the evil figures being vanquished by Freedom: Jefferson Davis as Discord, with two lighted torches, and Alexander H. Stephens as Anger, being struck by a thunder bolt and biting his finger.5
  • Holding his trident, Neptune, the Roman god of the sea, looks on as Venus, the Roman goddess of love who was born from the sea, helps lay the transatlantic cable.4
  • Mercury, god of commerce, with his winged cap and sandals and caduceus, hands a bag of gold to Robert Morris, financier of the Revolutionary War, while men move a box on a dolly.5
  • Minerva, goddess of wisdom and the arts of civilization, with helmet and spear, points to an electric generator creating power stored in batteries, next to a printing press, while inventors Benjamin Franklin, Samuel F.B. Morse, and Robert Fulton watch.5
  • Paintings and sculptures of Washington’s celestial rise were soon to be found in living rooms and civic halls across the country.1
Now think about what you must do to achieve veneration as a glowering god of old.

via the capitol’s flickr
  1. The Apotheosis of George Washington — Brumidi’s Fresco & Beyond
  2. DC Walkabout — The Apotheosis of Washington
  3. Presidents Day and the Apotheosis of Washington
  4. The Apotheosis of Washington
  5. Painting the Apotheosis of Washington


  1. That is really fucking weird.

    1. Dina, that was the whole point! See, you get stuff.

  2. Anonymous11:04 AM

    Apotheosis means 'divine transformation'. It's from Ancient Greek: apo-'to become', theos-'god'. That of man becoming god.

  3. In its own context, it's really not all that weird - or religious. Until the revival (or invention) of Neopaganism in the 20th century, the characters of classical mythology had long been thought of as personifications of abstract concepts, rather than actual, living deities. You can even find statues of classical deities in St. Paul's Cathedral, London, which is pretty good evidence that Christians did not regard the ancient gods are serious competition, even in the context of a massive neoclassical building.

    America's Founding Fathers were steeped in classical learning. The architecture of Washington, DC, is neoclassical, which was a calculated statement. Also, many of the founders were involved in Freemasonry, where they regularly employed religious symbolism with non-religious intent.

  4. Washington was Worshipful Master of the Lodge of Alexandria.
    Gr. Alexandros = protector of man - God will protect you from evil - 2Thessalonians 3:3
    Washington DC is layed out as a square, just like God's Holly City in Heaven - Apocalypse 21:16
    Washington DC is a stretch of land that separates 2 waters - Potomac and Anacostia, just like God separates the waters - Genesis 1:6
    The Rainbow stands as covenant between God and earth - Genesis 9:13
    Washington DC means District of Columbia.
    Lat. columbus = dove, which is the incarnation of the Holy Spirit - Luke 3:22
    Lat. districtus = to stretch out - God stretched out the heavens - Job 9:8
    Washington DC stands between Virginia and Maryland.
    Lat. virgo = virgin
    Maryland = land of Mary, the mother of Jesus, from Hebrew Miriam, meaning 'bitter' or 'rebellion', 'disobedience'
    Washington makes the signs with the hands As above so below (as in heavens so on earth). At his right the Liberty Goddess holds the fascias and the Tables of the Law - Exodus 34:1
    Columbia is the Liberty Goddess, Diana/Artemis, the twin sister of Sol Invictus, who is Apollo, the angel of the bottomless pit - Revelation 9:11
    Washington DC is organized as Corporation, body corporate - District Of Columbia Organic Act Of 1871
    Lat. corpus = body - Jesus said "this is my body" - Matthew 26:26
    Washington DC is the headquarters of the International Finance Corporation, which the USA is a member of. A private institution. The IFC is a global corporation, with 184 "countries" as members.

  5. Now that last comment was wierd.

  6. Anonymous2:37 PM

    One may also see pentagrams surrounding the painting. A stark representation of Satan in washington. Though one may think this painting symbolizes great things, it looks like the days of the roman empire. Soldiers are seen terrorizing families and the citizens are fearful. If washington was to become a god, he would be a pagan one since a study done on him showed he was not a christian like many people think. This leader seems to be an evil god, and may be named as Apollyon in the bible. look for "On the Path of the Immortals" by cris putnam and thomas horn. Read your Bibles!

  7. Criztu is correct: this nation is founded on paganism and controlled by people who worship the gods/men of old renown. They are powerless against Yeshua but Christians in this nation don’t seem to see this is a pagan nation! Sol Invictus Apollyon is the god who was born on Christmas and celebrated unknowingly by Christians who don’t have eyes to see truth. And yes the Statue of Liberty represents his twin sister Diana/Columbia/Gaia! Please wake up to the deception of this nation. The name America means “Land of the plumed serpent” this nation was named after Quetzalcoatl- an abominable god that children were sacrificed to... it was not named after Amerigo Vespucci as you were lied to about. In fact Amerigo changed his name to sound like America after it was named after the pagan serpent God. This land was called “Amaruca” by the natives of this land long before Vespucci came here. Wake up this is a pagan land Named after pagan beings. The dome in the picture is representative of the firmament that is mentioned in Genesis, we do-not live on a spinning ball hurtling through a void called space... look into Biblical cosmology and you will see they inverted the Christian world view. Yeshua sits on the dome not any of these satanic pagan Roman gods. Notice the lowercase “g” because they will never be able to dethrone Yeshua the true one and only God! Just look at what they tried to do during the Tower of Babel... no one will ever dethrone Yeshua but that is what this painting is portraying. A lie.