Most people associate the image of George Washington with a stiff, aged face on the front of a wrinkly dollar bill. But according to new three-dimensional images produced by the first president’s library, it appears Washington was the equivalent of an 18th century heartthrob.
The Mount Vernon Estate and Gardens is performing research on Washington’s physical appearance as a young man in an attempt to more clearly display his image. Three life-size 3-D models of Washington at ages 19, 45 and 57 will be displayed at the Mount Vernon Estate and Gardens in Virginia this month.
“Deciding that physical appearance is a crucial element to learning about and relating to the ‘real’ George Washington, (we) determined that visitors needed to see what Washington looked like,” said Emily Coleman, assistant director of marketing for the Mount Vernon Estate.
The estate, located at Washington’s colonial home, hired several forensic anthropologists to scan busts of the revolutionary war general at various points throughout his life. Research for the project involved collecting 200-year-old artifacts of Washington’s, including his dentures and his original breeches, waistcoat and stockings.
Software programs analyzed the artifacts and scanned them into a computer to create molds of wax for Washington’s head and dimensions for Washington’s body. The process is being directed by Jeffery Schwartz, a professor of anthropology at the University of Pittsburgh.
“Dr. Schwartz will compare paintings to look for consistencies in facial and body structure,” Coleman wrote in an e-mail.
Nearly three years ago, estate directors began asking visitors how to improve the museum – respondents said they wanted to know more about the “real” George Washington, Coleman said. She explained there are no portraits of Washington under the age of 40, and little is known about what he looked like as a young man, so the museum hired technicians to create busts of Washington’s figure at various ages.
GW assistant professor of history David Silverman, a cultural American historian, said historians have always known that Washington was an attractive young man.
“Historians do not usually cast leaders in this type of light, but we’ve always been aware that Washington was an icon,” Silverman said. “His face was more recognizable than Jesus at the time.”
Coleman said Washington was “tall, athletic, strong and had large hands and feet.”
“He looked the part of a president,” Silvernman said. “He was more appealing to the ladies than his peers, especially the short and disgruntled John Adams.”