Research Programs: Public Scholars

Period of Performance

9/1/2020 - 6/30/2021

Funding Totals

$50,000.00 (approved)
$50,000.00 (awarded)

Classical Washington: Greece and Rome in the Art and Architecture of DC

FAIN: FZ-266853-19

Elise Anne Friedland
George Washington University (Washington, DC 20052-0001)

Research and writing leading to a book explaining the influence of classical Greek and Roman art and architecture on the urban plan, government buildings, and public art of Washington, D.C.

Architecturally and artistically, Washington, D.C. is a city like no other in the United States: an enormous, elongated dome dominates its skyline; a massive Doric temple, housing a colossal, seated “cult” statue of a former president, flanks its central greenspace; equestrian statues of military leaders inhabit many of its circular plazas. This book, Classical Washington, will immerse readers in a chronological survey of the development of the urban plan, governmental halls, and public art of 19th- and early 20th-century D.C. It will reveal the Greek and Roman models that our early nation’s architects and artists adopted and adapted, the sources via which those classical models crossed the Atlantic to the U.S., and the historical, political, and visual motives that resulted in the classical cityscape we inhabit today. At its core, the volume will address the role of public art and architecture in establishing the foundational legends, early history, and international stature of our nation.

Associated Products

The Parthenon and the Civil War Frieze on the Old Pension Building (Conference Paper/Presentation)
Title: The Parthenon and the Civil War Frieze on the Old Pension Building
Author: Elise A. Friedland
Abstract: This paper offers my preliminary thoughts on the role of the Parthenon Frieze in Montgomery Meigs’ and Caspar Buberl’s choice of format, style, content, and messages in the Civil War Frieze (1883) on the Old Pension Building with a view toward considering the Parthenon frieze’s broader role in public art of nineteenth century America.
Date: 09/11/2020
Primary URL:
Primary URL Description: Schedule for conference, "America & the Classical Past: Trends in Greco-Roman Reception," sponsored by The Graduate Center, CUNY.
Conference Name: America & the Classical Past: Trends in Greco-Roman Reception

Greek Revival DC (Public Lecture or Presentation)
Title: Greek Revival DC
Abstract: The Founding Fathers sought to emulate the Roman Republic politically; accordingly, they set out to build the nation’s capital city as a “New Rome on the Potomac.” By the early 19th century, however, politicians turned instead toward Greece as the chief model for their democratic experiment, and the style of government architecture followed suit. GW professor Elise Friedland will survey this “second wave of federal building” in D.C. and demonstrate how the successors of our Founders and their architects “Hellenized” the capital city.
Author: Elise A. Friedland
Date: 01/25/2021
Location: Virtual Lecture for DC Mondays, sponsored by the George Washington University Museum and The Textile Museum
Primary URL:

Washington's Wonders of the Ancient World (Public Lecture or Presentation)
Title: Washington's Wonders of the Ancient World
Abstract: Washington, D.C., boasts American adaptations of three of the seven Wonders of the Ancient World. The cult statue of Zeus from Olympia, Greece, reappears in a seated statue of George Washington. The Mausoleum of Halicarnassus from Hellenistic Turkey sits at 16th and S streets, where it serves as the House of the Temple of the Scottish Rite of Freemasonry. Finally, the Lighthouse of Alexandria from Ptolemaic Egypt rises on Shuter’s Hill in Alexandria, Virginia, as the George Washington Masonic National Memorial.
Author: Elise A. Friedland
Date: 03/22/2021
Location: Virtual lecture for DC Mondays sponsored by the George Washington University Museum and The Textile Museum
Primary URL:

Trajan’s Dacians, Union Station, and the Sculptural Landscape of Washington, DC (Public Lecture or Presentation)
Title: Trajan’s Dacians, Union Station, and the Sculptural Landscape of Washington, DC
Abstract: Amidst the Greek-inspired pedimental groups of the Capitol, National Archives, and Supreme Court Building and the honorific portraits of Jefferson, Lincoln, and numerous equestrian generals, the statuary program of Union Station stands out in the sculptural landscape of Washington, DC—in subject matter as well as placement. This lecture explores the Roman models and American messages of Louis St. Gaudens’ six allegorical figures that grace the attic of Union Station’s façade (“The Progress of Railroading”) as well as his forty six “Centurions” who guard the building’s interior. To date, these statues have been neglected in scholarship, perhaps because they were created by the less famous brother of the acclaimed Gilded Age American sculptor, Augustus Saint Gaudens. The lecture presents new archival research demonstrating that, though the Union Station sculptures were completed in 1913, the placement of all and the subjects of some were inspired by Trajan’s second century CE Dacian Prisoners, reused on the Arch of Constantine. This study also provides insight into the adoption and adaptation of other Classical models, the sculptor’s process of creating the Classicizing statuary, and the collaboration between Louis St. Gaudens and the building’s architect, Daniel H. Burnham, famed as the director of works at the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893 and the chairman of the committee that conceived and executed the MacMillan Plan for which Washington’s 1907 Union Station served as a linchpin. Finally, the lecture seeks to show that the placement and subjects of the architectural sculpture of Union Station, rare among contemporary American train depots, was purposive and learned—and designed to echo its European counterparts. Furthermore, this adoption of the Roman profusion of three-dimensional sculptures in architectural facades contributed to making America’s capital “a city of statues,” much like ancient Rome itself.
Author: Elise A. Friedland
Date: 11/04/2021
Location: Virtual lecture, sponsored by the departments of Art & Art History, and of Classics, Philosophy, and Religion at Mary Washington University