George Washington, Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, Washington Square

Jean Antoine Houdon
1922 bronze cast of 1785-88 statue

The French sculptor Houdon depicted many of the most famous men of the 18th century including French figures like Voltaire, Rousseau, Diderot, Moliére, Louis XVI, and Napoleon and American Revolutionary heroes as well: Franklin, Jefferson, John Paul Jones, Lafayette, and Washington. He made a special trip to America in order to make models and take measurements for the bust portraits and standing figure of Washington. None of the known bust portraits depict him in military costume but rather in classical toga or a simple shirt.

The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

This bronze cast of the late 18th century statue of Washington by Houdon is the focal point of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Washington Square. This park area had a Revolutionary War barracks and later a graveyard for some of Washington's soldiers. The inscription on the sarcophagus reads "Beneath this stone rests a soldier of Washington's army who died to give you liberty."

The plow at the base

The plow at Washington's feet is generally thought to allude to the 5th century BCE Roman soldier Cincinnatus, who prematurely gave up military power to return to a simple life of farming.


Mixture of contemporary costume and classical symbolism

Wearing a military uniform, Washington stands, holding a walking stick. His sword and cloak are hung up on the fasces at his left. This Roman symbol of authority has thirteen rods, symbolizing the thirteen federated states.

See also the original marble statue in the rotunda of the Virginia State Capitol Building.

Work Consulted:
Anne L. Poulet et al. Jean-Antoine Houdon: Sculptor of the Enlightenment. Washington, D. C: National Gallery of Art, 2003.

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© 2008 Mary Ann Sullivan. I have photographed (on site), scanned, and manipulated all the images on these pages. Please feel free to use them for personal or educational purposes. They are not available for commercial purposes.