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George Washington's Eye

, 344 pages

32 color illus., 149 b&w illus.

August 2012



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George Washington's Eye

Landscape, Architecture, and Design at Mount Vernon

Winner, 2014 John Brinkerhoff Jackson Book Prize, Foundation for Landscape Studies

Honorable Mention, Architecture and Urban Planning, 2012 PROSE Awards

On the banks of the Potomac River, Mount Vernon stands, with its iconic portico boasting breathtaking views and with a landscape to rival the great gardens of Europe, as a monument to George Washington’s artistic and creative efforts. More than one million people visit Mount Vernon each year—drawn to the stature and beauty of Washington’s family estate.

Art historian Joseph Manca systematically examines Mount Vernon—its stylistic, moral, and historical dimensions—offering a complete picture of this national treasure and the man behind its enduring design. Manca brings to light a Washington deeply influenced by his wide travels in colonial America, with a broader architectural knowledge than previously suspected, and with a philosophy that informed his aesthetic sensibility.

Washington believed that design choices and personal character mesh to form an ethic of virtue and fulfillment and that art is inextricably linked with moral and social concerns. Manca examines how these ideas shaped the material culture of Mount Vernon.

Based on careful study of Washington’s personal diaries and correspondence and on the lively accounts of visitors to his estate, this richly illustrated book introduces a George Washington unfamiliar to many readers—an avid art collector, amateur architect, and leading landscape designer of his time.

Joseph Manca is the Nina J. Cullinan Professor in the Department of Art History at Rice University. He is author and editor of a number of books, including The Art of Ercole de' Roberti, Titian 500, and Andrea Mantegna and the Italian Renaissance.

"A comprehensive and well-illustrated history of Washington's estate."

"Manca convincingly argues that George Washington, the 'indispensable man,' was indispensable to American art, too."

" George Washington's Eye not only sheds light on the first president's keen interest in architecture, landscape gardening, and art collecting but also illuminates his learning process... Those who seek to understand Washington by exploring Mount Vernon will find this book informative and fascinating."

"More inclusive than any previous study of Mount Vernon's architecture, decorative arts, or immediate landscape, [ George Washington's Eye] looks at the physical evidence as well as Washington's writings about art and taste... The book is, therefore, a comprehensive study of Washington's aesthetic choices, from their origins to the objects in which they resulted. While other scholars have catalogued the paintings in Mount Vernon, for example, Manca goes further to consider why Washington hung certain pictures in particular rooms or chose not to display others at all."

"This work makes many key contributions to the study of Washington's life and activities."

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