Historical rendering of Union Station


Classical Washington



Through November 18, 2023

Public architecture and monuments across the city of Washington reveal the influence of the ancient world. Organized with GW professor Elise Friedland, this exhibition demonstrates how the Founding Fathers and subsequent government leaders favored Greek and Roman styles to evoke America’s political roots.



About the Exhibition

Washington, D.C., is like no other city in the United States. A Greek Doric temple houses a colossal cult statue (the Lincoln Memorial). A Roman triumphal arch monumentalizes the main train depot (Union Station). Roman equestrian statues celebrate victorious American generals (Andrew Jackson in Lafayette Plaza). 

Classical Washington surveys the role of Greek and Roman art and architecture in the planning, building and decorating of America’s capital city. The Founding Fathers looked to ancient Rome as a political model for their new republic and sought to build a “New Rome” on the Potomac. As their successors turned toward Greek democratic forms of government, they introduced Greek influences to Washington's architectural and sculptural landscape.

Focusing on major federal buildings, public sculpture and painting from the U.S. Capitol to the Jefferson Memorial, this exhibition identifies the ancient models that inspired D.C. architects and artists, and explores how these classical echoes helped establish the new nation as a sophisticated player on the world stage. 

This exhibition is organized by the Albert H. Small Center for National Capital Area Studies with support from the Albert and Shirley Small Family Foundation. It is based on Dr. Friedland's current book project, Classical Washington, for which she received a National Endowment for the Humanities Public Scholar Fellowship. Any views, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this project do not necessarily reflect those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.



Exhibition Programs



Bird's-eye-view rendering of the Capitol building

Edward Sachse, View of Washington City, 1871, AS 2

Artist's rendering of the Library of Congress

Congressional Library, Washington, D.C., T. P. & Co., New York, c. 1900, AS 442

Artist's rendering of statue of Andrew Jackson in front of the White House

Mill’s Colossal Equestrian Statue of General Andrew Jackson, Casimir Bohn, Philadelphia, 1853, AS 131

Artist's rendering of Washington Monument

The Washington Monument, Louis P. Griffith, 1885, AS 482