Finishing School Girls for Art

Greetings, loyal minions. Your Maximum Leader is always pleased to have other titles heaped upon his august person. Basil Seal has (so far) heaped the best one upon him.

Recently, the gracious Mrs P didn’t so much bestow upon your Maximum Lader another title; as make him part of a very elite fraternity, the (Roman) Catholic Boys for Art. Well… Actually your Maximum Leader was just seen entertaining the other (Roman) Catholic Boys for Art on his ham pillow - but the connection is tenuous enough for your Maximum Leader to run with it. The real (Roman) Catholic Boys for Art - hereafter RCBfA - are Messrs Seal, Elk and Fiendish. It is unclear as to Mr Cusack’s final status in that group; but your Maximum Leader would hazard a guess that the good Mr Cusack is likely a charter RCBfA member. Your Maximum Leader probably is, at best, a lesser associate member. His Catholic credentials are not quite up to snuff you know…

Anyhoo… The delightful Mrs P (who by the way, is celebrating 16 years of connubial bliss with Mr P this weekend) has, for the purposes of entertaining the RCBfA, been regaling her readers with “art stories.” Alas… Your Maximum Leader doesn’t have any “art stories” to share with you all. He’s not a particularly artistic fellow. Not much for dancing, prancing, or singing either. This is not to say that he is not a lover of “the arts” - for he is. But he is an observer, critic, and sideline-stander. (All the easy things to be…)

But… All these “art stories” from Mrs P (as well as the commentary on statuary by Messrs Seal and Elk) have gotten your Maximum Leader to thinking about statuary in the fair city of Washington DC.

Now once upon a time, your Maximum Leader was lucky enough to have a great professor in college. Richard T. Couture was a character (in addition to being a learned man). Richard was a very well traveled man. All the great cities of the western world he’d visited - as well as many of the great cities of the East. Surprisingly, he’d never traveled much to Washington DC.

Well… Perhaps not all that surprisingly. You see, your Maximum Leader has spent the majority of his life living in the greater Washington DC area. And he’d have to say that Washington has only become a world class city in the past 15 years or so. Sure DC has always had “the government” and the Smithsonian; but other than that… Not too much.

Anyhoo… Richard didn’t visit Washington much. One time, your Maximum Leader convinced Richard to visit DC and see the sights. While your Maximum Leader was giving him the nickel driving tour of the city Richard commented that “There is one predominant architectural and sculptural style in this town.”

“Really? What style is that?” replied your Maximum Leader.

“Totalitarian Gothic,” Richard stated flatly…

Stop for a moment, if you will, and think about the age of the totalitarian builders… Those were the 1930s. Who were the totalitarian builders? Hitler, Stalin, and Mussolini. Think of the buildings and sculptures of those times. Some people call it “Socialist Realism.” Your Maximum Leader (thanks to Richard Couture) likes to call it “Totalitarian Gothic.”

Of course… Building at the same time as Hitler, Stalin, and Mussolini was the Works Project Administration and all the other alphabet soup agencies of Franklin D Roosevelt’s administration. Many of the imposing edifices of Washington DC date to these federal construction programs. So do the statuary that adorn the buildings.

Compare for yourself if you like. Stalingrad (Volgagrad) vs. DC. Or these. DC vs Moscow.

Now, having introduced you all to Totalitarian Gothic, your Maximum Leader should tell you that not all sculpture (or building) in Washington DC is in the Totalitarian Gothic style. Oh no. There are plenty of other buildings and statuary styles to go around.

One of the most monumental buildings in the city is Union Station. The main (and monumental) terminal entrance to the station was designed around the turn of the last century by Daniel Burnham. It’s large vaulted ceiling is inspired by the Baths of Dioclietian in Rome.

But it is not the ceiling that is the focus of your Maximum Leader’s comments. It is the statuary below the ceiling. The statues of the Roman soliders.

You see, Louis Saint-Gaudens was commissioned to do the sculptures of the Roman Centurions which would adorn the building. The story goes that Saint-Gaudens sent a model from his studio to the commissioners responsible for the building. The statue was supposed to depict a “historically accurate” Roman Centurion. Helmet, breastplate, cape… And in the “all together” below the waist.

Now… First off, any student of the period knows that Roman soliders didn’t march into the heat of battle wearing nothing below the waist. That is just stupid. Everyone (and your Maximum Leader believes that it is truly a sample set of everyone in the whole world) knows that men like to protect their private parts. So the idea of soliders not protecting that area is just artistic whimsy.

Well… The model caused something of a stir. The building commissioners told Saint-Gaudens that the “all together” below the waist wouldn’t do. So the final centurions were crafted standing behind their shields. The rumor is that if you look carefully from certain vantage points you can see behind the sheilds… Your Maximum Leader has never tried to frankly. And for your edification, here is a brief recounting of this story - along with a photo of one of the centurions.

Your Maximum Leader hopes that Mrs P, a Finishing School Girl for Art, enjoys this post and continues to regale her readers with “art stories.”

Carry on.

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