Saturday, April 22, 2017

Meade Memorial in Washington DC Raises Curious Questions

One thing capitol cities are especially fond of is monument making, and Washington D.C. has them in spades. In addition to all the major monuments for our presidents and fallen heroes, there are an ample quantity of statues as well.

A couple weeks ago I was taking a leisurely stroll around the Capitol area when I came across a statue featuring General George M. Meade. Meade's fame rests on his having defeated Robert E. Lee's troops at Gettysburg, though my recollection is that he was late to the show and only arrived in the nick of time. After defeating Lee's army he then failed to follow up and as a result though dragging their tails between their legs Lee's troops were able to escape, recoup and prolong the war another two years. The actual location of this Meade Memorial is on the 300 block of Pennsylvania, just down the street from the White House.

Usually I do what most people do when I see these statues. I glance at the statue, note the bronze placard to see who it is, and pass on. This time, however, being in no hurry I loitered around its base, studying the actual craftsmanship and contents. To be honest, I thought it a strange collection of images, for it's not just the general on display. He is being attended to be a group of semi-clad young men and women whose aim appears to be to disrobe him.

The imagery was intriging enough to make me wish to understand it further, so I asked Google for assistance and found this:

The memorial is one of eighteen Civil War monuments in Washington, D.C., which were collectively listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1978. The marble and granite sculpture, which includes depictions of Meade and seven allegorical figures, rests on a granite base and granite platform. It is surrounded by a public plaza and small park. The monument is owned and maintained by the National Park Service, a federal agency of the Interior Department.

General Meade was not a popular general after the war, having fumbled his opportunity to fame. Nevertheless, the people of his hometown Philadelphia desired to honor him, and this statue was eventually produced.

The curious composition is made of marble and granite, depicting Meade in his military uniform standing tall, peering out into the distance with great dignity, flanked by six figures representing "qualities the artist believed necessary in a great military leader... Chivalry, Energy, Fame, Loyalty, Military Courage, and Progress." One would be hard-pressed to make this conclusion by merely gazing at the nude women and semi-clad men. The cloak being removed is the "cloak of battle." On the rear side of the statue we find the winged God of War.

Here's some additional information regarding the figures:

The figure representing Loyalty holds a wreath and garlands behind Meade representing his accomplishments. The female figure representing Fame is behind Loyalty and is supported by the male figure of Energy. Behind Chivalry is the male figure of Progress and male figure of Military Courage. The latter is locking arms with War. A gold finial of the state seal of Pennsylvania is at the top of the memorial. 

Ultimately the Meade Memorial reminded me that artists often put more into their work than viewers take out, that meanings can sometimes be elusive even when the details are engaging.

The God of War. The hilt of his sword is its handle, consisting of guard, grip and pommel. 

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Next time you're in D.C. check out the statuary. Every picture tells a story. 

1 comment:

Karen said...

Thanks Ed for this article. It is very well written and quite interesting.