Artist: Raimondo Trentenova
Title: George Washington
modeled ca. 1815, carved 1820
24 7/8 x 13 3/8 x 11 in. (63.2 x 34 x 27.9 cm)
Gift of James H. Ricau and Museum purchase
One of the most highly sought-after subjects in the late 18th century, the image of George Washington was an iconic theme for many artists. The artist, Raimondo Trentenova, did not sculpt the bust of Washington from life, but rather used a sculpture carved in plaster completed by another artist. Trentenova has wrapped Washington in a robe, or toga, rather than a military uniform or suit. As Washington was elected the first president of the new democratic nation, the choice of the robe is a fitting resemblance to that of a statesman of the Roman Republic. Washington’s expression is solemn, communicating the dignity and seriousness of his position and pursuits. Trentenova does not hide Washington’s age, presenting him with a double chin and sunken cheeks that show he, too, is human and is vulnerable to the passage of time.
The use of the toga draped around Washington in Trentenova’s sculpture serves to connect the roots of American government back to the beginnings of democracy in ancient Rome. The Roman Republic began with the overthrow of the monarchy around 500 BCE. The new republic was governed by a constitution, and was concerned with separating power by dividing areas of responsibility into different branches, thereby keeping a balance. All these things inspired the Founding Fathers of the United States, and they expressed their admiration for ancient Greek and Roman culture by adopting styles of art and architecture created when these two civilizations thrived. Also in the 18th century, the re-discovery of ancient Roman cities such as Pompeii, buried by a volcano in the 1st century fueled taste for art in the style of ancient Rome. We call the revival of this style neoclassicism.