Illustrating Liberty: “The Apotheosis of Washington”

[Illustrating Liberty is a new, irregular feature on this blog featuring the occasional “Political Photoshoppery” of Aristotle A. Esguerra.]

Anonymous, iThe Apotheosis of Washington./i Watercolor on glass (reverse painting), 62.9 × 85.1 cm. Morristown National Historical Park, New Jersey.

Anonymous, The Apotheosis of Washington. Watercolor on glass (reverse painting), 62.9 × 85.1 cm. Morristown National Historical Park, New Jersey.

This post isn’t about an original work at all; in fact, I did very little to come up with the image that accompanied Lew Rockwell’s Monday article for, “The Myth of Good Government.” It was the initial shock that such an image existed — and was quite popular for a while — that prompted me to write this post.

BK Marcus, editor extraordinaire and blogger at lowercase liberty, sent me an image similar to this one last weekend suggesting that it run as the image to the Rockwell piece. Stunned at the existence of such a work, and thinking it was just another Internet mashup, I performed a Google image search on “apotheosis washington” — what else could it be called? — and sure enough, a version of this picture popped up. (I chose the version pictured here because the frame added a certain regal absurdity to the entire piece.)

Poking around to find out more about this painting led me to the website of the New York Public Library’s C.W. McAlpin Collection. Apparently the original engraving and etching by John James Barallet spawned many knockoffs, of which this is one.

I thought that the Barallet engraving was absurd, but I wasn’t prepared for this one. However, I burst out laughing in response to viewing it. I would hope that George himself would too.

In retrospect, I shouldn’t be shocked that such an image was produced. Most every ‘great’ nation — self-proclaimed or otherwise — in every time and place have monuments and statues that seemingly attempt to raise mere mortals to the status of demigods; Lenin, Mao, Lincoln, and FDR to name a few. The only difference between Washington and the others I mention is that, given the choice between attempting to retain power and relinquishing it, Washington chose the latter, and in doing so set a presidential precedent that has mostly survived to this day — unitary executive or not.

Upon further thought, that’s worth celebrating. A bit, anyway.