Architectural Styles Between the National Memorial Term Paper

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¶ … architectural styles between the National Memorial Arch in Valley Forge to the Arch of Constantine in Rome

The National Memorial Arch in Valley Forge and the Arch of Constantine in Rome:

historical and architectural comparison of the two structures

Gazing at the National Memorial Arch in Valley Forge, near our nation's capital in Washington D.C. is a powerful, visual reminder of the influence that classical ideology played in the construction of American democracy. The Founding Fathers admired the principles and government of ancient Greece and Rome, and much of Virginia shows this influence, from the Lincoln to the Jefferson memorial, to the columned houses of Valley Forge themselves. However, as exemplified in the construction and inscriptions upon the ancient Roman triumphal arch, the Arch of Constantine in Rome, in constructing the National Memorial Arch, America did not merely strive to create a replica of Rome, but to envision a new kind of celebratory arch for 20th century America, when the arch was constructed.

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The style of the National Memorial Arch is of the neoclassical period. The arch, according to the U.S. National Park Service, was commissioned in 1908 and erected during the subsequent years "to commemorate the arrival of General George Washington and his Continental Army into Valley Forge" in triumph ("National Memorial Arch," U.S. National Park Service, 5 Apr 2008). Its single, majestic stone arch was designed by Paul Philippe Cret, as a simplified version of the Triumphal Arch of Titus in Rome (a.D. 81). That arch, which predates the arch of Constantine, was created to mark the capture of Jerusalem by Emperor Titus in a.D. 70.

Term Paper on Architectural Styles Between the National Memorial Arch Assignment

Cret was Frenchman, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania who had studied European architecture at the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris. He went on to design numerous structures that still stand in Philadelphia, including the Rodin Museum, the Federal Reserve Bank building and the Ben Franklin Bridge (the National Memorial Arch. Valley Forge, FAQs, 2008). All of Cret's designs are in the neoclassical style. Cret selected a triumphal design for the arch even though Washington, of course, upon returning to Valley Forge was not conquering a subject people like the ancient Roman Titus. Washington marched in celebration of the liberation of his fellow Americans from what was perceived to be British tyranny, and the neoclassical style also celebrated ancient Greek and Roman principles of democratic and republican government. When Cret created his structure, which was dedicated in 1917, patriotic sentiment ran high in America, because of the threat of war abroad. Its appearance seemed to celebrate the classical tradition in honoring generals and emperors with memorial arches in stone and say that Washington's victory for freedom was as long-lasting as stone. It was "classically proper as a national tribute to General Washington and the army he led" ("National Memorial Arch," U.S. National Park Service, 5 Apr 2008).

Some disputed the National Memorial Arch's construction at the time. From an architectural standpoint, a triumphal arch was seen as inappropriate to a rural setting like Valley Forge, as such arches usually stood in major cities like Rome. Today the arch is no longer controversial. In fact, because of the arch's congruity with so many of the structures in the area, it is hard to remember that it was not built during the time of Washington's triumphant entrance, but in 1908. It is important to remember that it harkened back to the classical past of ancient Greece and Rome, the neoclassicism of the founders, as well as to Washington's triumph. There is nostalgia to the work that is not immediately evident, nostalgia for the actual construction and design of Washington D.C. under the watchful eye of Jefferson, and a less complicated age of American heroism, embodied in the persona of Washington.

Despite the towering majesty of this triumphant stone arch in America, the Arch of Constantine dwarfs the Valley Forge structure in size. The Arch of Constantine in Rome is a three, rather than a singular structure of arches. The Roman arch's "three barrel-vaulted passageways" was also erected to commemorate a victory, namely "Constantine's victory over Maxentius at the Battle of Milvian Bridge in 312" (Sullivan, 2005, p.1). It lies just west of the Coliseum and dwarfs the nearby Arch of Titus that inspired Cret's National Memorial Arch.

Like the National Memorial Arch, whose style commemorates the Founding Father's neoclassicism, the Roman arch pays homage to the past, not only in style, but in composition. The Arch of Constantine "incorporates recycled sculpture from earlier monuments, in part as some suggest, because creativity and technical skill had fallen off by this time period, but perhaps also because of a desire to associate Constantine with the good emperors Trajan, Hadrian, and Marcus Aurelius, whose monuments were cannibalized for sculpture," unlike the sculptures of the 'bad emperors' like Nero (Sullivan, 2005, p1). The act of creating the new sculpture in the style of the National Memorial Arch looked back to a purer past with nostalgia. But the Arch of Constantine erases and reconfigures the past. The use of stones and the use of recycled materials and recut statues suggest that the new regime was desperately struggling for legitimacy and a connection with the past. Constantine, in the present was desperate to erase the parts of the past that he did not like and rewrite himself in a tradition of 'good emperors.'

Similarly, at the turn of the century, when America was looking ahead to a turbulent future, looking back to Washington's victory over the British was a source of comfort to a confused nation. However, the American sculpture at least attempts to faithfully recreate the past. In the Roman version, the new, absolute leader was celebrated in a far more dictatorial manner -- the faces of the good emperors from sculptures of the past on Constantine's arch were made to resemble the features of Constantine, to show how Constantine's greatness was prefigured in their greatness (Sullivan, 2005, p.1). It is difficult to image the U.S. Congress agreeing to the National Memorial Arch if the figures of Washington on the arch had been cut to resemble the politicians of the 20th century -- or worse yet, if sculptures of the Founding Fathers were used to commemorate not just George Washington, but a politician of the present!

The Arch of Constantine thus has a political agenda, to celebrate Constantine, even in its cannibalized materials. It is studded with reliefs taken from a monument celebrating Marcus Aurelius' victory over the Germans with free-standing figural sculptures representing prisoners, eight in total, from the Forum of Trajan made to commemorate Trajan's victory over the Dacians. These figures made to resemble the story of Constantine's victory. The inscription upon the arch, which is repeated on both sides of the structure reads: "To the Emperor Constantine from the Senate and the Roman People. Since through divine inspiration and great wisdom he has delivered the state and the tyrant and his party by his army and noble arms, [we] dedicate this arch, decorated with triumphal insignia" (Sullivan, 2005, p.1). The same inscription is repeated on both sides.

The National Memorial Arch also bears an inscription honoring Washington, but it is far simpler. It simply dedicates the structure to "to the officers and private soldiers of the Continental Army December 19, 1777 June 19, 1778." There is no reference to the fact that this victory divinely ordained, as is implied in the inscription of the Roman arch. Nor is there reference to Washington's great wisdom and inspiration. Of course, the image and name of Washington suggests an overcoming of tyranny, as the British monarch was called a tyrant in the Declaration of independence. But the commonness of Washington's victory, rather than his extraordinary nature takes the forefront of the words of the inscription, and the private soldiers who froze and suffered and fought beside him are given their due credit.

Constantine, although he hardly conquered alone, and although his victory came at a human cost of lives and efforts, is said to have "delivered" the Roman people with his army, his noble arms -- not even the Roman noble arms, but by his name, and his will to conquer. And after all, the defeated Maxentius represented a rival Roman political faction, not an alien national power. As well as battle scenes, the Arch of Constantine friezes show episodes in the life of Constantine and examples of his generosity to the people. "The distribution of gifts, and his address to the Roman people from the Rostra in the Forum," is shown, as well as an image of Constantine sitting upon a throne (Sullivan, 2005, p.3). There are no images of Washington, for example, cutting down a cherry tree as a boy, or other memorable scenes from the mythology surrounding his life.

The Arch of Constantine is more elaborately decorated than the National Memorial arch. "The ends of the arch were also decorated, which was not always the case in triumphal monuments. On the east… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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