the image “george washington welcomes abraham lincoln into heaven” is so homosexual
everyones reblogging this as if its contemporary or asking who did it but i gotta inform you all it was made in the very same year lincoln was assassinated (1865) and we literally have NO GODDAMNED CLUE who made it and its like fuckin 150 years old
no but here’s where the story gets wild, because this was a thing. and I don’t just mean super gay-looking quasi-religious ascensions of Lincoln into Washington’s arms, we’re talking waaaay weirder than that. I don’t know why it’s not covered in American history classes, because it’s amazing, but Washington enthroned in heaven was such a common motif in American art (largely immediately after his death and again after Lincoln’s assassination) that it has a name: the Apotheosis of Washington. said motif is, simultaneously, incredibly American, incredibly French, incredibly lame, and actually kind of moving in terms of early national mythmaking.
the imagery is largely lifted from paintings of the assumption of the Holy Virgin (as seen here, courtesy of Titian), and usually has Washington ascended into heaven, surrounded by embodied virtues, cherubs, or best of all, old army buddies
(both of whom I briefly mistook for Marie Antoinette)
or here’s a good one, Washington being lifted from his crypt by Father Time and an angel, wearing the expression of a man doing the world’s most unenthusiastic trust fall. note Lady Liberty weeping at his feet, and the Native American warrior playing the part of the grieving land itself. there’s a strong Napoleon vibe in this one, which probably isn’t an accident. that was a man who knew a little something about artistic self-deification.
but the prime example of this motif is in the United States Capitol, in a fresco of the same name, (too detailed to blow up here) where Washington sits enthroned, outfitted in military finery and flanked by Liberty and Victory. around him are six scenes displaying American virtues, or rather–with all due disrespect to Neil Gaiman–American gods: Freedom (depicted, tellingly, as War), Science, the riches and firepower of the Sea, Commerce, Mechanics, and Agriculture. Washington presides over all of them, as the man who created a nation with the strength of his will and the fire in his heart. the heavens are spread around him, and he gazes down at the American experiment sternly and benevolently.
…in other words, monarchy is a really hard habit to kick, especially in art. but the Apotheosis of Washington comes at a real crossroads in the developing American psyche. yeah, there’s a lingering hunger for kingship, that old tendency to bend at the knees, ringed around–visually overpowered–by what would rise to fill that void: commerce, invention, war, and the uniquely American conception of Liberty.
the Lincoln thing is water from the same source: Washington forged the country, Lincoln preserved it, and paid the greatest price for his efforts. in fact, the Capitol painting was commissioned the same year Lincoln was shot, for obvious reasons. the almost-but-not-quite-kissing image of both men in the original post was actually a postcard, and was distributed in large quantities in the months following Lincoln’s death. I like to imagine that people had them pinned up in their houses, where they could unconsciously admit another president into the pantheon of gods
#it’s funny: when you think about it there’s actually a presidential Trinity#Washington#Lincoln#and JFK#one created the nation#one preserved it#and one–in the public imagination at least–was destroyed after holding the gates of Camelot against a monstrous aggressor#god Americans are in so deep#it’s fascinating and weirdly moving and I love it#the seller of lightning rods arrived just ahead of the storm#this is it this is my art tag#(sorry guys I’m ruining a funny post with facts again) (tags via wizzard890)
but please never be sorry i found your old art history movements LJ post years ago, got a museum studies degree (best known by my family as “don’t ask what her art history classes are like, she’s going to tell you she’s studying butts in England this week.”) and am now in grad school for art history and frankly weird facts about art like this is my literal favorite
please enjoy these other hilariously great pseudo god-like Lincoln’s and/or Washington’s that are my favorites:
a personal fave where George Washington literally stands in for God with a halo of sun rays emanating from his face under which angels call up Lincoln to heaven done by Philadelphia’s Max Rosenthal and also apparently people argue about whether or not it was said “Now he [Lincoln] belongs to the ages.” or “Now he belongs to the angels.”
If you study history for a living you get used to being less than certain about many important facts. Take the famous comment attributed to Secretary of War Edwin Stanton as he stood weeping beside Abraham Lincoln’s deathbed on the rainy Saturday morning of April 15, 1865. “Now he belongs to the ages,” Stanton is supposed to have said, soon after his friend stopped breathing.
also this Pemberton print for Washington where a woman in blue weeps over his death in front of a giant obelisk in a completely unsubtle cribbing of the Virgin mourning christ