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The Apotheosis of Democracy: A Historical Insight

What did the term Democracy actually mean for Americans in 1916 when Congress approved the commission of The Apotheosis of Democracy, the pediment presiding over the portico at the House of Representatives in the US Capitol? The term, derived from Greek, means to make divine that which is merely human. Apotheosis, in this particular case, is the glorification of Democracy to the hights of the divine. Interesting...





The pediment was designed by Paul Wayland Bartlett, who entrusted the execution to the Piccirilli brothers. Bartlet and the Piccirilli were simultaneously working on six monumental figures for the New York Public Library, and had previously collaborated on the pediment at the New York Stock Exchange. Based on photographic evidence, it seems the closest relationship between sculptor and artisans was with Getulio, the youngest of six Piccirilli brothers and business manager of the marble carving outfit in the Bronx.


In the following sequence, an excerpt from The Italian Factor, a film in progress, Bill Sherman of the University of Virginia, and Michele Cohen at the US Capitol delve into the particulars of the collaborations leading to some of the most relevant public works.


The Apotheosis of Democracy in Detail


From The Italian Factor
The Apotheosis of Democracy


The pediment's center focal point is the allegorical figure of Peace, dressed in armor and depicted protecting Genius. Leaning against Peace's proper right leg, Genius holds a torch that symbolizes immortality. Peace stands in front of an olive tree. To Peace's proper left is a figure of Agriculture, next to whom stands a reaper with his assistant, a farmer with his bull, a putti carrying grapes, and a mother with her child who plays with a ram. To the proper right of Peace is Industry, accompanied by a printmaker, an ironworker, a founder, a factory girl, and a fisherman. The corners of the pediment feature waves representing the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. The pediment is made of Georgia marble.


This historical collaboration between Bartlett and the Piccirilli brothers produced one of the most significant and symbolically rich artworks in American history, celebrating the divine concept of democracy through the timeless medium of sculpture.

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