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Impearls: Apotheosis in the American duumvirate

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Earthdate 2007-11-10

Apotheosis in the American duumvirate

In Impearls' earlier piece on the “Constitution of the Roman city-state,” notice was paid to the fact that the principal officers of the Roman civitas (city-state or county) were a duo who were typically termed duumvirs and the system was thereby a duumvirate (literally “two-man-office”); to the tail end of which I thereby tacked on a postscript, to wit:

I'm no fan of American paleoconservative Patrick Buchanan, but I almost fell out of my chair a while back when I heard him (on PBS's McLaughlin Group) refer to Bush/Cheney as “duumvirs.”  Somehow it had hitherto escaped my notice, but “duumvir” and “duumvirate” are actually English words (as well as Latin), and — along with triumvirate, etc. — are present in English dictionaries.

In the American Presidential system, the U.S. President/Vice-President clearly more closely resemble the Roman Emperor/Vice-Emperor (known titularly as the Augustus/Cæsar), wherein one member of the official dyad is institutionally superior to the other (though the U.S. President can't fire the Vice President) — as opposed to the Roman municipal (along with Roman Republican) system detailed heretofore, in which the duumvir (consul) magistrate pairs are institutionally equal in status and powers, each magistrate also possessing the power of vetoing his colleague's actions and decisions.  Either approach can presumably be properly termed a kind of duumvirate and its official magistrates duumvirs.

That then drew this reply from Impearls reader Circe:

Well, I wouldn't hold your breath for any posthumous deification of Bush.  Though if I see any depictions of Bush apotheosis, I'll let ya know.

(Laughing.)  That's pretty funny!  Taking the point semi-seriously though, I suspect — the malady known as “Bush Derangement Syndrome” being as prevalent as it is at present — quite a number of BDS-affected souls would like or at least fantasize treating the President of the United States as Nero was.  Bush, however, is fairly young and will in bit over a year (unlike Nero) voluntarily leave office; thereafter (barring untoward events) he's likely to live for a number of decades yet.  Given that, who knows how public opinion will shift by the time the matter truly is “postumous”?  Recall that Truman ended his term in office highly unpopular (locked in a stalemated war that cost nearly as many American lives as the Vietnam War did to boot), and yet look how he's regarded now.

The essential point, of course, is that the United States (in its executive branch) is a constitutional duumvirate — a feature in my view probably copied by the American founding fathers (I suspect principally James Madison) directly from the Roman model.  Certainly there's nothing among America's British and Continental political forebears (other than the Roman) similar to the U.S. President and Vice President.  (That and other resemblances between the Roman and American constitutional systems probably deserve a further posting one of these days to properly consider the matter.)

Beyond that, folks who disbelieve that America (as well as Rome) has “apotheosized” (honorarily deified) at least some past Presidents (as Rome did some of its Emperors) need look no further than the overlooming fresco encompassing the dome of nothing less than the Capitol of the United States (Congress's designated assembly hall, as the Roman Capitol was for the Senate in Rome), revealing emigre Italian artist Constantino Brumidi's stunning masterpiece “The Apotheosis of Washington”….

Constantino Brumidi's Apotheosis of Washington, U.S. Capitol dome, Washington, D.C. f1

Detail: George Washington as Lord of Hosts, Constantino Brumidi's Apotheosis of Washington, U.S. Capitol dome, Washington, D.C. f2

George Washington — General principally responsible for his country's independence, chairman of its constitutional convention, and first President of the United States — sits enthroned over a rainbow.  With a gesture at the Constitution/Law, flanked by the goddesses of Liberty (holding the traditional Roman fasces of authority) and Victory/Fame (cradling the palm of victory whilst flourishing the clarion of fame) — haloed round by a constellation of thirteen Starry maidens hoisting a banner proclaiming E Pluribus Unum — the apotheosized Washington regards us from on high as the Lord of Hosts.

Detail: E Pluribus Unum, Constantino Brumidi's Apotheosis of Washington, U.S. Capitol dome, Washington, D.C. f3


References

f1 Constantino Brumidi, “The Apotheosis of Washington,” 1865, Capitol of the United States.

f2 Constantino Brumidi, Detail: George Washington as Lord of Hosts, from “The Apotheosis of Washington,” 1865, Capitol of the United States.

f3 Constantino Brumidi, Detail: E Pluribus Unum, from “The Apotheosis of Washington,” 1865, Capitol of the United States.

1 Dan Brown, The Lost Symbol (novel).


UPDATE:  2009-09-22 17:50 UT:  This piece was published nearly two years ago, but about a week back a mass of Google image searches pointing at Brumidi's “Apotheosis of Washington” fresco pictured in this article began bringing in a flood of thousands of visitors — on a daily basis almost an order of magnitude greater than Impearls' usual traffic — which is still ongoing.  Would one of these visitors please e-mail me or add a comment to the effect of what the source of their sudden inspiration for doing that search was?

One might also note that December 14 of this year 2009 local time (Earthdate 2009-12-15 03:00 UT) will be the 210th anniversary of George Washington's death (apotheosis) in 1799.  Impearls plans another article on Washington for that occasion.

UPDATE:  2009-09-28 02:00 UT:  Reader Kaitie Marie responded to my appeal for information concerning how the recent flood of visitors to Impearls as a result of web searches for the Apotheosis of Washington got their inspiration to do so, posting a recent comment:

The Apotheosis of Washington is mentioned in Dan Brown's new book, The Lost Symbol. 1  The book describes what the frescoe looks like and mentions some of its symbolism.  When you google search for the piece under images, this website is in the first two or three results and this is probably the reason that you've been seeing such an influx of new visitors.  That said, I'm glad that I came across this blog and look forward to reading your other posts.  The diversity of subject matter and obvious research that you've put into your posts is impressive.

Thanks, Kaitie!  No doubt you're right that that's the explanation, and thanks too for your kind words about Impearls.  One might note that the rate of visitors has continued to rocket up over the last few days, reaching a new (at least recent) record of 820 visitors just during the last day.  Welcome, everybody, and I hope that many of you, like Kaitie, will continue to stop by.

As mentioned in the earlier update above, in December of this year (2009) Impearls will publish a more in depth memoriam concerning the character of George Washington for the 210th anniversary of his death (or “apotheosis”), for which numerous additional images of paintings and sculpture by Brumidi and others are planned revealing the depth of the acclaim that Washington has earned in the minds of the American people.  In the meantime, folks might like to check out this fascinating book about the artist Constantino Brumidi including many more images of paintings by him which appear in the U.S. Capitol and elsewhere, available on-line at the U.S. Government Printing Office.

UPDATE:  2009-10-08 19:50 UT:  A site named Mahalo: Human-Powered Search, in a posting titled “Apotheosis Of Washington,” has linked to this article.  Also, the blizzard of visitors searching for the images in this posting, referred to in earlier updates above, reached a peak on Earthdate 2009-09-28 with 971 visitors arriving that day.


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2 comments:  (End
(Perma)  On Thursday, November 15, 2007 at 12:00:00 AM GMT, Blogger Michael McNeil wrote:   
Comment carried over for Circe from its former location….

Nice frescos! Nothing like a powder-wigged man ascending to heavens in a robe. I studied these frescoes at one time (can't remember if they are technically frescoes or just wall paintings – but that is neither here, nor there).

I personally prefer this statue:

Horatio Greenough's George Washington

I remember seeing it for the first time and could not stop laughing at it. Poor Naked George. I think the man would be mortified.

You can actually thank that particular statue for George Washington having a military uniform on in the fresco in the Capitol. People had a negative reaction to the unclothed George of the statue.

Try visualizing Reagan in that toga. Big Reagan grin on his face. Just try. I dare you.

I think Bill Clinton would the only one who would be up for being modeled like that these days.

As it is he already has this travesty of a painting:

Nelson Shanks' Bill Clinton

It hangs in the National Portrait Gallery and when you see it in person, you can't help but wonder what he was thinking when he wore a purple tie and put on such a cocky pose for the painter. It really is truly awful. Actually worse than Carter's 1970's ghetto-fabulous presidential portrait. Shag rugs anyone?

As one paper wrote about Clinton's portrait, "like a bad portrait of Ted Koppel."

(Perma)  On Sunday, September 27, 2009 at 7:21:00 PM GMT, Blogger Kaitie Marie wrote:   
The Apotheosis of Washington is mentioned in Dan Brown's new book,The Lost Symbol. The book describes what the frescoe looks like and mentions some of its symbolism. When you google search for the piece under images, this website is in the first two or three results and this is probably the reason that you've been seeing such an influx of new visitors. That said, I'm glad that I came across this blog and look forward to reading your other posts. The diversity of subject matter and obvious research that you've put into your posts is impressive.

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