Americans of the Revolutionary era looked to ancient Rome and Greece as models of republican ideals. This statue, a bronze copy of die original marble which has stood in the rotunda of the Virginia State capitol since 1796, includes both classical and also American symbols that would have been familiar to Americans of die time. George Washington is depicted as a modern Cincinnatus, the Roman farmer and general who left his farm to save the Roman Republic, and then voluntarily returned to his plow.
To study his subject, French sculptor Jean-Antoine Houdon traveled to America and stayed at Mount Vernon for two weeks, taking detailed measurements of Washington and casting this life mask. Washington family believed that the final statue was the most realistic depiction ever made of him.
Take a Closer Look
The Father of our Country wears his military uniform but carries a civilian walking cane rather than his sword, which has been set aside. He stands by a farmer's plowshare, a symbol of his love of peace and agriculture. He rests his hand on a bundle of rods called fasces, a Roman symbol of civil authority. Here, the thirteen rods represent the joining of the original states and the strength gained from that unity.
George Washington, cast by Devile from original life mask by Houdon, 1785. Courtesy of the Mount Vernon Ladies? Association.