Yesterday was gorgeous. I spent nearly the whole day on the bike. A good battery recharge. As SDA and I were coming out of Prospect Park and waiting at the traffic light [Yes, some cyclists really do obey rules of the road.], I saw the triumphal arch at grand army plaza again-for-the-first time. Check out the spandrels! The left Victory has a palm branch and a little victory on a globe, but the right Victory has fasces with axes AND the constitution.
She’s holding it like Moses holds the 10 commandments and its clearly inscribed as the constitution to make sure there is no question. The juxtaposition very nicely contextualizes the symbolism of the fasces in the late 1800s as a law-an-order motif.
The arch itself is dedicated to the “Defenders of the Union” and designing began 1888 and was unveiled 1892. All this just further informs how we read the fasces in an early 1900s context for our Liberty Dime digression.
Today’s plan is to do some more long hand drafting out at a coffee shop away from the distractions of technology.
This, this is a distraction, but an enjoyable one. I was asked in the comments what I thought about this product of the US mint from 1916 to 1945, specifically the reverse.
The image of fasces with and without axes has a LONG tradition in the official sanctioned art of the United States certainly going back to portraits of Washington. Houdon portrays Washington as a sort of second Cinncinnatus:
and the representation became highly influential, see esp. Ward’s Washington:
These are without axes. The Civil War memorials tend to juxtapose axed and axeless fasces in near proximity. Lincoln in his temple rests his hand on axeless fasces, but the tripods flanking the steps sit atop axed fasces:
Here in Brooklyn, Grand Army Plaza’s inner columns have fasces with axes, the outer without:
I read the dime as a ‘Liberty must be Defended’ ideology inspired by the memorialization of the War between the states and the new experiences of the Great War.
Many of the drafters of the constitution thought of the US as a (even the) new Republic. We’ve been left with a very Roman legacy. Each generation, in its own way, must come to terms with what that symbolic language means in a new age.
Update 8/24/13: The more I think about the more I want to emphasize the olive branch in relation to the fasces, this seems to me as very similar to the caduceus as a symbol of peace juxtaposed against the fasces on republican coins. Peace and Law and Order beget Liberty? Augustus rather dramatically connected the idea of Liberty and Peace on this issue:
The obverse legend resolves: “Imperator Caesar, Son of a God, Consul for the Fourth Time, Defender of Liberty”.