By Anne Leader
Happy Birthday George Washington! Though born on 22 February 1732 in Westmoreland County, Virginia, Washington’s Birthday is a US federal holiday celebrated on the third Monday in February. Washington has been portrayed by several Italian artists. Sculptor Giuseppe Ceracchi modeled a marble portrait bust of the first US president in 1795, four years after making America his home. Ceracchi had come to Philadelphia from Rome and became known for his neoclassical portraits of American civic heroes like Washington, Alexander Hamilton, and Benjamin Franklin.
World-renowned neoclassicist Antonio Canova created a seated portrait of Washington in the guise of a Roman general in 1821 for the North Carolina State Capitol in Raleigh. Washington, whose face is based on a Ceracchi bust, is shown as confident yet relaxed, contemplating a tablet on which he writes. The State House burned in 1831, ruining Canova’s work. The original model was discovered in 1908 at the Canova museum in Possagno, from which a plaster cast was made and given to Raleigh by the Italian government. In 1970, Venetian sculptor Romano Vio (1913-84) created a marble statue based on the original cast, which now sits on a granite plinth in the Capitol rotunda.
In 1865, Italian-American painter Constantino Brumidi painted the Apotheosis of George Washington as part of his fresco program for the US Capitol. Like Ceracchi and Canova before him, Roman-born Brumidi echoed ancient Roman, Renaissance, and Baroque prototypes with his image of Washington rising to the heavens in glory alongside allegorical figures of Liberty and Victory as well as War, Science, Marine, Commerce, Mechanics, and Agriculture.
Giuseppe Ceracchi, George Washington, 1795, marble. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, Bequest of John L. Cadwalader, 1914
Romano Vio, after Antonio Canova and Giuseppe Seracchi. George Washington, original dedicated in Raleigh on Christmas Eve, 1821; burned June 21, 1831, plaster replica 1910, marble replica 1970.
Vio at work on Washington
Costantino Brumidi, Apotheosis of George Washington, 1865, fresco, US Capitol Dome, Washington DC