Cincinnatus Project


Faculty: John Bailly

Jean-Antoine Houdon. George Washington, 1788. State Capitol, Richmond, VA.

In recognition of George Washington declining of the title of King of the United States, several officers of the Continental line founded The Society of the Cincinnati. The Society was dedicated to “An incessant attention to preserve inviolate those exalted rights and liberties of human nature, for which they have fought and bled, and without which the high rank of a rational being is a curse instead of a blessing.” The inspiration for the name came from the officers’ admiration of Lucius Quintius Cincinnatus (519 BCE – 438 BCE), who declined offers of power and returned to the status of citizen. In 1783, Americans saw a clear connection between themselves and the past. George Washington, the first president of the society, was known as the “Cincinnatus of the West.”

-From Tracy L. Kamerer and Scott W. Nolley’s “Rediscovering an American Icon”

For his Washington, Houdon combined the ancient and time-honored with the current, and tempered classical idealism with a down-to-earth naturalism, creating a version of classical taste that appealed to Americans. Houdon presented Washington as a modern Cincinnatus, the Roman farmer and general who left his land to fight for his state and, after victory, returned to his farm as man of peace and simplicity. In this figure the artist balanced the dualities of military and civil, war and peace, ancient and modern.

Washington wears his uniform but holds a civilian walking cane with his right hand. To the left of and behind the general is a farmer’s plowshare, yet he rests his left hand on a bundle of rods called a fasces, the Roman symbol of civil authority. Houdon translated the symbol to an American usage by forming the bundle from thirteen rods, to stand for the unification of the thirteen original colonies, and adding arrows in between that likely refer to Native Americans or the idea of America as wild frontier. Washington is portrayed as a man, not as a god.

Students are to compare and contrast themselves to a historical figure: examine commonalities, highlight differences, and explore ambiguities. The characters can be real or fictional, drawing on art, history, and literature. 

When in the appropriate location to the figure in Italy, each student will make a brief (5-10 minute) oral presentation to the class about their selected figure. 

Similar to a research paper, all sources must be cited for a film project. If you uitlize an exisiting film for inspiration or incorporate clips or pictures from someone else, you cite those sources in your film credits. Failure to do is plagiarism.

These following factors will be considered in determining the project grade.

Familiarity with subject
The nature of the connection between student and subject
The broader context of the student’s reflection (Can others relate to the points made in the project)
Originality of content

Below is a list of figures and events to select from. If the student wishes to select another, that choice needs to be approved by the professor. Each character or event may only be selected by one student.

Lucifer (from Dante’s Inferno): Florence
Francesca (from Dante’s Inferno): Florence
Romulus (circa 750 BCE): Palantine Hill
Remus (circa 750 BCE): Palantine Hill
Lucius Junius Brutus (circa 500 BCE): Capitoline Hill
Gaius Julius Caesar (100 BCE – 44 BCE): Roman Forum
Cato the Younger (95 BCE – 46 BCE): Roman Forum
Marcus Junius Brutus (85 BCE – 42 BCE): Roman Forum
Mark Antony (83 BCE – 30 BCE): Roman Forum
Virgil (70 BCE – 19 BCE): Rome
Cleopatra (69 BCE – 30 BCE): Rome
Augustus (63 BCE – 14 CE): Palantine Hill
Saint-Peter (circa 50 CE): Vatican
Mark the Evangelist (circa 20 CE): St. Mark’s Square, Venice
Constantine I (272 – 337): Roman Forum
Marco Polo (1254 – 1324): St. Mark’s Square, Venice
Dante Alighieri (1265 – 1321): Florence
Catherine of Siena (1347 – 1380): Siena
Filippo Brunelleschi (1377 – 1446): Florence
Còsimo di Mèdici (1389 – 1464): Uffizi, Florence
Lorenzo de’ Medici (1449 – 1492): Uffizi, Florence
Leonardo da Vinci (1452 – 1519): Uffizi, Florence
Niccolò Machiavelli (1469 – 1527): Uffizi, Florence
Michelangelo Buonarroti (1475 – 1564): Academia, Florence
Lucrezia Borgia (1480 – 1519): Vatican
Raffaello Sanzio (1483-1520): Vatican
Cosimo I de’ Medici (1519 – 1574): Uffizi, Florence
Veronica Franco (1546-1591): Venice
Galileo Galilei (1564 – 1642): Pisa
Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (1571 – 1610): Rome
Artemisia Gentileschi (1593–1652): Florence