Fantastic Pediments and Where to Find Them

Posted on Saturday, Jul 08, 2017

If you have ever studied for the GRE or enjoyed your survey of world architecture course, you could answer the question ‘what is a pediment?’ For those who never had the pleasure of either, the Oxford dictionary defines a pediment as “the triangular upper part of the front of a classical building, typically surmounting a portico.” These beautiful images can be easily overlooked as merely decorative statues. However, those who take the time to learn about the meaning of each pediment will discover the beauty and depth in each representation of American ideals.

Touring around D.C. with my roommate opened my eyes to the richness of the pediments. Sitting in front of the Supreme Court building, we wondered what the grand statues above us meant and decided to Google it. We could see Liberty Enthroned with Order and Authority at her sides, surrounded by figures of Council, Research Past and Present. At the Capitol, we appreciated the three pediments above the Senate Wing, the House Wing, and the Central Wing: The Progress of Civilization, The Apotheosis of Democracy, and The Genius of America. The Progress of Civilization features America and portrays the pre-colonial days of America contrasted with the modernizing of America. The Apotheosis of Democracy is a display of Peace protecting Genius from Industry and Agriculture, the two great sources of wealth. Central to everything, The Genius of America, an embodiment of America, Justice and Hope, representing, in the words of John Quincy Adams, “the American Union founded on the Declaration of Independence and consummated by the organization of the general government under the Federal Constitution, supported by Justice in the past, and relying upon Hope in Providence for the future.”

The fantastic architecture of Washington D.C. is not just a great Kodak moment. It is a physical embodiment of the history, challenges, and ideals of America which are truly evident in the pediments.

Next time you are in D.C. or see one, don’t just take a picture. Take the time to sit down, use a little data, and see more than just statues, but fantastic representations of the American Dream.

Alex Goodman
National Defense University
Washington, D.C. | summer 2017