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Art / The Apotheosis of Washington

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A fresco depicting President George Washington ascending to godhood. The fresco is painted on the interior of a hollow hemisphere suspended inside the outer dome of the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C., and only mostly visible from the Capitol Rotunda through the oculus of the inner dome.

The focus of the painting is on two circles. In the first inner circle, George Washington sits at the bottom robed in purple with Lady Liberty and Lady Victory at his sides. The rest of the circle is taken up by thirteen girls each representing one of the thirteen original states. The second, outer circle is below the clouds and is made up of six scenes each detailing an American lifestyle: War, Commerce, Science, Mechanics, Marine, and Agriculture.

If this seems like it fits better in the Sistine Chapel than the Capitol, that may be because it was made by The Pope's painter. Constantino Brumidi was an Italian immigrant who spent three years working in the Vatican before coming to America to escape political turmoil and turning the Capitol into a church for America's civic religion. With his expertise in religious art, Brumidi communicated the ideals of The United States through the Tropes of the Divine.

It was completed in 1865, during the closing months of the American Civil War.

The Apotheosis of Washington provides examples of:

  • Abstract Apotheosis: Washington's ascension to godhood appears to involve him becoming some type of abstract representation of America.
  • American Eagle: Just below George Washington there's a mighty eagle nearly the size of Lady Liberty attacking a kingly knight, representing America's rebellion against Britain. It even holds arrows and a thunderbolt in hand, just like on the seal of the USA.
  • Anachronism Stew: The "Marine" scene has the Roman goddess Venus emerging from the ocean as she did in the time of ancient Greece so she can complete her godly duties... to wire transatlantic telegram cables. Behind her and Neptune's mighty horsemen, you can see a smoke-stacked ironclad warship.
  • Anthropomorphic Personification:
    • The two ladies on Washington's side represent virtues. The one on his left represents Victory (demonstrated by her war trumpet and Olympic wreaths) and Liberty (demonstrated by her book open to all and Roman cap of freedom).
    • The thirteen maidens with stars above their heads represent the first United States, which is why they hold up the nation's motto "E pluribus unum."
    • The scene of War has a female representation of Freedom in the place of a Greek god. This Freedom is a warrior who fights tyrannies with her mighty eagle and American shield.
  • Arcadia: The bottom-right scene shows a peaceful goddess holding a basket of fruit while beautiful maidens and men pick fruit and tame horses, all to represent America's agricultural prosperity.
  • Armor Is Useless: The tyrant king is easily knocked over and stomped on despite wearing full-body metal armor. His opponent, Lady Freedom, is wearing a liberating dress and cape that shouldn't protect her, but she conquers her opponent despite this apparent flaw.
  • Ascend to a Higher Plane of Existence: "Apotheosis" refers to the process of becoming a god, which is how Washington got his seat next to Liberty and Victory.
  • Blasphemous Praise: The painting depicts George Washington's ascend into some divine representation of the United States. Someone worthy enough to sit right beside the Christian God. For Christians, one of the main dogmas is that there is only one god, divided into three, that people can worship. Worshipping someone or something else is sacrilegious. People, like saints, are regarded as divine but not on the same level as God himself. They are just special humans, not gods or goddesses.
  • Bolt of Divine Retribution: Freedom's Eagle shows the tyrants whose side Heaven is on by shooting lightning from his arrows straight at 'em.
  • Capitalism Is Bad: Inverted Trope; in keeping with its patriotic nature, The Apotheosis upholds America's economic ideals of free market capitalism by depicting the lively Mercury leading healthy craftsmen, wise scholars, and youthful sailors with his bag of gold in hand.
  • Deity of Human Origin: Apparently, really good Presidents become gods when they die. They also seem to have a higher place in this cosmology than Anthropomorphic Personifications or even the Greek gods.
  • Eagleland: Type 1; America, represented by Washington, has risen to the ranks of the divine, and even risen above the Greek gods by perfecting each of their specialties while also being protected by the great warrior of Freedom.
  • Everything's Better with Rainbows: One of the many signs of the President's divinity is the beautiful rainbow that flies right behind his feet.
  • Evil Is Burning Hot: The only sinister characters in the image are the tyrant king and his followers, who stick out because a few of them are seen with torches trying to burn down Ceres's agricultural utopia. In case the evil wasn't clear enough, the fire isn't light-bearing so much as smoke-spewing, covering the tyrants with smoke and shadow.
  • Fluffy Cloud Heaven: Washington's holy abode has few distinguishable features besides being covered in clouds and having some large source of light being covered by them.
  • Gold and White Are Divine: The palette of the sky here is divided into yellow-ish clouds in the center and the outer white clouds which the states and the ladies sit on.
  • Heaven Above: The fresco presents the first President and Lady Liberty as gods looming above the residents of the U.S. Capitol building to remind senators that George is watching—from beyond.
  • Heavenly Concentric Circles: The fresco is painted inside a circular dome and the characters are positioned in two concentric rings. The inner one depicts Washington's ascend into godhood as the embodiment of American values. He's surrounded by Lady Liberty, Lady Victory, and the representations of the thirteen original states. Below a ring of clouds, there's the outer circle, made of scenes of the American lifestyle.
  • Magic Skirt:
    • Mercury is almost entirely nude and is entirely unbothered by it. Robes just happen to cover his groin and nothing else while he doesn't seem to notice that he's naked without it.
    • Venus is wholly nude except for a robe that isn't so much on her as blowing past her. Conveniently, the robe in the wind covers her gonads while censoring nothing else.
  • Noble Bird of Prey: A fierce eagle accompanies Freedom and assists her in deposing the regal Tyranny.
  • Our Gods Are Different: Apparently, really good Presidents become gods when they die. In this painting, an ascended Washington sits beside Victory and Liberty in a Fluffy Cloud Heaven looking down upon an Anthropomorphic Personification of Freedom and the Greek gods, who now seem to serve the Celestial-In-Chief.
  • Our Presidents Are Different: An Exaggerated Trope of President 'Nice Guy'; the President is put on a pedestal so high that it sits right next to God's throne.
  • Primary-Color Champion: Lady Freedom is set apart from the beige-brown brutes of tyranny by her red cape, blue tunic, and yellow dress that complement her patriotic red, white, and blue shield.
  • Prongs of Poseidon: The Marine element of America is represented in the top-left of the fresco by Poseidon holding his trident high and right towards the center of the Heavens.
  • Purple Is Powerful: As a sign of his Election, the Celestial-in-Chief is draped in a purple tunic he wears over his general's uniform (this was done with the Roman emperors).
  • Science Is Good: Science is divinized in this painting. Represented by mighty Minerva, it is presented as a collaborative effort by curious children, hard-working scribes, and wise statesmen to make America greater with their ever-greater machinery. Minerva even stands right next to a rainbows to further science's purity and goodness.
  • Seahorse Steed: Neptune rides two horses while navigating the seas that are just like normal horses, but with fins in the place of their hooves.
  • The Smart Guy: Minerva serves as the representative of Science among the gods and pensively points to and observes an electric generator while students and scholars observe her and write notes.
  • Ultimate Blacksmith: Keeping in tradition with Vulcan's role as the Blacksmith God, The Apotheosis paints him leaning his hammer on an anvil while standing on top of a cannon serves to represent the pride of American mechanics.
  • War God: Freedom is a fierce warrior who fights armored kings with her mighty eagle, flag-themed shield, and skyward golden sword. Fittingly, she sits directly under General Washington's seat in the clouds.
  • Would Hurt a Child: The soldiers that Freedom battles are seen holding torches and facing the direction of a small child who recoils away. While it seems like Freedom will stop them, the implication is that they are fully willing to burn a child alive if Freedom wasn't there to restrain them.
  • The X of Y: The title explains what's going on, the Abstract Apotheosis of President Washington into some abstract representation of America.