"The status of monuments on the cusp of the twenty-first century is double-edged and fraught with an essential tension: outside of those nations with totalitarian pasts, the public and governmental hunger for traditional, self-aggrandizing monuments is matched only by the contemporary artists’ skepticism of the monument"
James E. Young, “Memory/Monument,” 2010
As Charles Brownell and his student Ramin Saadat asked, at the Virginia Capitol, why had Jefferson "devised a templelike exterior and a templelike core surrounding a white marble statue in a fashion suggesting divine honors.” The answer, they suggest, may lie in the popular theory, known as Euhemerism, that saw the origin of ancient gods in mortal “leaders or benefactors” whose veneration had “naively evolved into worship.”
It became necessary to call upon at least a modicum of myth in order to craft an aestheticized history that met the new nation’s ideological needs. . . . “American” versions of the methods by which Italy’s Renaissance packed the past with rich meanings eventually found their way into the national imagination, especially after the rising commitment to manifest destiny began to overlay republican modesty with grandiose images of heroic glory. But in the beginning the Capitol dealt with America’s first president in its own way. By a reversal of the euhemeristic tradition, as we will see in the making of the myth of George Washington, the mortal man became a demigod.
George Washington as America’s savior general and first president would endow the nation’s capital with what Renaissance Italy named civile- “the affective identification of the [citizen] with a particular, geographically defined place,” as well as “a belief in the sacred nature of institutions and leaders, an attitude that invests things and persons political with a mystical aura, distinguishing them from mundane structures and from ordinary mortals.”
Public ceremonies required the right person to represent the nature of the republican virtues Americans were making up as they went along. . . . In both the Old World and the new, ceremonies of adventus sealed the relation of leaders to the people (private individuals, the military, the administrative staffs). They confirmed the needed sense of stability and order, backed by a coherent bureaucratic system. Over time, however, it became unnecessary to highlight the “action” by which a leader “arrives.” He is “just there” through a process that has been “completed and consummated.” . . . John Quincy Adams was deeply depressed by the implications of the inability to reach a compromise over the final resting place of the nation’s foremost symbol of unity. In his diary of February 22, 1832, Adams wrote that the wish for the capitol to be the site of Washington’s tomb had been “connected with an imagination that this federal Union was to last for ages. I now disbelieve its duration for twenty years, and doubt its continuance for five. It is falling into the sear and yellow leaf” [Martha Banta, One True Theory and the Quest for an American Aesthetic (Yale U Press, 2007, 77ff].
|Thomas Crawford's equestrian Washington, 1858|
The monumental composition stands on a granite base appropriately shaped like a hexagonal star fortress. The design includes two tiers of supporting sculptures around a massive bronze equestrian figure of Washington, cast in Germany. The upper row of pedestals support statues of six Virginia patriots- Thomas Jefferson, George Mason, John Marshall, Andrew Lewis, Thomas Nelson, and Patrick Henry. The lowest tier consisted of six allegorical female figures and trophies representing revolutionary virtues (and places) allied with the six patriots. Andrew Lewis is allied with “colonial times,” Patrick Henry with revolution, George Mason with the Bill of Rights, Thomas Jefferson with independence, Thomas Nelson with finance, and John Marshall with justice. Crawford died having completed only the sculptures of Washington, Jefferson, and Henry. His student, Randolph Rogers, completed the remaining pedestal sculptures after the Civil War. The monument strongly reinforces the urban order by serving as a objective at the end of Grace Street at the entrance to Capitol Square. It stands on axis with the Governor’s Mansion and in an effective non-axial introductory relationship with the Capitol itself. The nearby Washington Tavern was renamed the Monumental Tavern in its honor [Hopson Goddin, Richmond Virginia 1861- 1865, Civil War Centennial Committee, 1961].
The Washington monument did not stand alone in Capitol Square for long. It was followed by the life-sized Henry Clay statue in 1860, located north of the Capitol. Henry Clay, born in Hanover County, Virginia, was a renowned statesman, orator, and long-serving speaker of the the U.S. House of Representatives who had studied law in Richmond with George Wythe. Clay was a hero to the Whig population of the city, who favored federalist policies promoting economic, social, and moral modernization in opposition to the populism of Andrew Jackson. The artist was the Kentucky-born sculptor Joel T. Hart (1810-1875). The statue was commissioned in 1845 by the Ladies Clay Association, in order to rescue his cause “from the foulest slanders ever invented for party purposes” during the presidential election of 1844 and to “teach our Sons to honor [his] name- and imitate [his] noble deeds” [The Papers of Henry Clay, January 1, 1844-June 29,1852, 1991: U P of Kentucky:203].
Monument Avenue was laid out in 1887, not only to serve as an appropriate setting for the heroic statue of Robert E. Lee planned to stand at the center of a great circle at its eastern end, but as a grand extension of the city to the west.
As was documented by Jay Killian Bowman Williams, Monument Avenue was largely the creation of its property owners, beginning with the Allen family, who owned the site of Lee Circle. The city and most of the promoters of the statue wanted it to be placed in a familiar and existing location such as Capitol Square, Libby Hill, or Monroe Park. The Board of the Lee Memorial Association, having been convinced by, among others, Augustus St. Gaudens, that an accomplished European sculptor would produce the best work, hired Frenchman Jean Antoine Mercier and mandated a calm, serene Lee who would project a sense of the moral and aesthetic seriousness of the southern cause missing in the booming New South city that doubled in size between 1860 and 1890 [Jay Killian Bowman Williams, Changed Views and Unforeseen Prosperity: Richmond of 1890 Gets a
Monument to Lee (Richmond: privately printed, 1969)].
|A famous image of the Lee Monument, with a crop of tobacco growing in front of it. This has always looked to us like a a publicity stunt.|
Monument Avenue gradually extended to the west and its intersections became the settings for a sequence of public sculpture on a scale rarely achieved in an American city. Monumentally scaled statues of Confederate figures, some more effective than others, and none as fine as Lee’s, were eventually placed at the center of every other intersection for more than a mile.
|Soldiers and Sailors Monument by William Ludwell Sheppard, 1894|
|A triumphal arch constructed as a temporary |
entry gateway to the popular Street
Carnival held on Broad Street
"Triumphal" arch in stone proposed for Monroe Park soon after Jefferson Davis' death in 1889.
An arch was again suggested to span Broad Street in 1901 [City on the James, 1893].
|First Regiment of Virginia Monument at Park Stuart and Meadow streets by Ferruccio Legnaioli|
A tradition began of placing statues at key points around the city, begun by Cutshaw, continued to punctuate the axes of transportation routes and along paths in public parks. These include the statue of A.P. Hill at Laburnum and Hermitage and the figure of Williams Carter Wickham (1820 –1888), a lawyer, judge, politician, and Confederate Cavalry commander, who image was placed in Monroe Park by his war-time comrades and employees at the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway in 1891. It was sculpted by Richmond’s Edward V. Valentine. The Richmond Howizers Monument (1892) and the Monument to the First Regiment of Virginia Infantry (1930) punctuate the irregular route of Park Avenue as it wends its way through the Fan District.
Columbus statue and fountain
As the Fan District was extended to the west, Boulevard was laid out in 1875 as a grand cross street to connect Reservoir (Byrd) Park to Broad Street. The terminus at the foot of the great reservoir was given an suitably architectural effect by the placement of a small cascade fountain symbolizing the civic provision of water fronted by a statue of Columbus. This was placed in front of the fountain in 1925 by a group of citizens of Italian origin and sculpted by immigrant sculptor Ferruccio Legnaioli.
The discourse on Richmond's Civic Markers will continue with Part III- Fountains.
For a discussion of contemporary monumental art, see Public Art and Community Memory: Richmond's Maggie Lena Walker.