The statue of George Washington deemed too risqué for Capitol Hill

If you've been to the National Museum of American History in Washington, DC, then you may have seen "Enthroned Washington," the statue Horatio Greenough sculpted in honor of the centennial of George Washington. The statue was originally destined for the US Capitol rotunda, but many were offended by the idea of a half-naked Founding Father seated in the Capitol's heart.

Following the era's neoclassical revival, Greenough's statue, commissioned by Congress, was based on Phidias' Statue of Zeus, one of the Seven Wonders of the World. Like Zeus, Washington was naked from the waist up, with a sheet covering his lower body. It was placed in the Capitol in 1841, but within the first few weeks of the statue's life in the rotunda, complaints flooded in. Some found the nipple-baring Washington undignified rather than divine; for others, the statue was the butt (and abs) of many jokes. When the statue was moved to the Capitol's east lawn in 1843, the common joke was that an exposed Washington was reaching for his clothes (which were, at the time, on exhibit at the nearby Patent Office).


Despite this public disapproval, the statue remained on the lawn, damaged and discolored by the elements, until 1908, when Congress had it transferred to the Smithsonian. In 1964, it was moved from the Smithsonian Castle to the Museum of History and Technology, now the National Museum of American History, where it still lives today. Today, the once-scandalous statue is now well protected, but it has landed in somewhat less grand surroundings than the Zeus-inspired Washington expected to find itself.

Top photo from Wikimedia Commons. Second photo by Wknight94 via Wikimedia Commons.

George Washington, sculpture by Horatio Greenough, 1840 [Smithsonian Legacies]
Vagabond Statue [US Senate via Super Punch]


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