“The Arts of War” and “The Arts of Peace” are two distinctly different yet interrelated sets of sculptures located on Lincoln Memorial Circle (MAP), in northwest D.C.’s West Potomac Park. Framing the eastern entrances to Arlington Memorial Bridge and the Rock Creek and Potomac Parkway, respectively, the works were commissioned in 1929 to complement the plaza constructed on the east side of The Lincoln Memorial. Due to budgetary constraints brought on by the stock market crash beginning on Black Tuesday in October of that year, the completion of the sculptures had to be delayed. Then when they were finally completed a decade later, they had to be placed into storage, again due to a lack of funding.
Then in 1949, some members of Congress suggested that a European nation be asked to cast the statues as part of the Marshall Plan. At the time the Italian Ambassador to the United States, Alberto Tarchiani, was looking for a way to express his country’s gratitude to the United States for America’s assistance in rebuilding Italy after World War II. And after learning of the models in storage, he decided that Italy would use Marshall Plan funds to take on the responsibility of casting and gilding the four statues as a gift and gesture of good will to the people of the United States. The statues were finally cast in 1950, at the A. Bruni Foundry in Rome and the Fonderia Lagana in Naples. After casting, one of the statues was sent to Milan, and another was sent to Florence, while the remaining two remained in Rome and Naples. The cases were then gilded with approximately 100 pounds of 24-karat gold before being returned to the United States and erected in September of 1951. Almost 64 years later, I rode there on this lunchtime bike ride to see them.
Flanking the entrance to Arlington Memorial Bridge, the bronze, fire-gilded statuary group entitled “The Arts of War” was sculpted by an American sculptor named Leo Friedlander. The group consists of two art deco-style statues entitled “Valor”, which is located on the left if facing the bridge from D.C., and on the right, “Sacrifice”. “Valor” depicts a bearded, muscular male nude symbolic of Mars, the ancient Roman god of war. To his left is a semi-nude female striding forward, holding a shield with her left arm. “Sacrifice” shows the same figures. But the nude male is holding a child in his arms, and is bowing his head. The semi-nude female is to his right, her back to him and the horse.
“ The Arts of Peace”, created by American sculptor James Earle Fraser, also consists of two separate statuary groups, entitled “Aspiration and Literature”, which is on the left, and “Music and Harvest” on the right. These Neoclassical statues frame the entrance to the Rock Creek and Potomac Parkway. Both statues feature Pegasus, the source of inspiration and poetry in Greek mythology. “Aspiration and Literature” consists of a nude male on Pegasus’ right with a toga over his left shoulder and holding an open book, symbolic of literature. Another nude male on Pegasus’ left, dressed in a toga over both shoulders, is depicted aiming a bow backward, which is symbolic of aspiration. A serpent is also portrayed behind the personification of literature, representing wisdom and knowledge. “Music and Harvest” consists of a nude male on Pegasus’ right holding a sickle and carrying a sheaf of wheat , symbolizing of harvest. A semi-nude female holding a harp, symbolic of music, is on Pegasus’ left. A turtle, symbolizing the belief that art is long and time is fleeting, is also present.
The massive statues are the largest equestrian sculptures in the United States, with each weighing 40 tons, and measuring 19 feet high, 16 feet long and 8 feet wide. Each is mounted on a hollow granite pedestal which has 36 gilded bronze stars at the top, representing the number of states in the United States at the time of the Civil War. The Arts of War and The Arts of Peace are maintained by the National Park Service, and are considered contributing properties to the East and West Potomac Parks Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1973.