Guest Blogger: Mari
One of five statues located on Virginia Avenue, NW, is the General Jose de San Martin Memorial which resides in a small park where the avenue intersects 20th Street NW. It was originally dedicated in October of 1925 but was rededicated in October of 1985 to commemorate the visit of Argentina’s president, Raul Alfonsin.
The statue, which is in the classical equestrian pose, celebrates the life and accomplishments of General Jose de San Martin. Born in Argentina in 1778, San Martin was educated in Spain and fought in the Spanish military as a young man. He returned to Argentina when word of a revolt against the Spanish colonizers started to spread. After becoming a commander in the Argentinean rebel army, he led Argentina to freedom from Spanish rule in 1812. He then helped Chile and Peru obtain independence in 1818 and 1821. For these deeds he is known as the father of Argentina. To this day, the Order of the Liberator General San Martin is one of the highest honors to receive in that country.
The piece itself is a replica of the original statue located in the Plaza San Martin, Buenos Aires, Argentina which was created by Augustin-Alexandre Dumont, an artist from a long line of French sculptors dating back to 1737. The copy in Washington, D.C. is made of bronze and stands on a tall platform forcing the viewer to look up to the general’s impressive effigy. When the memorial was first dedicated in 1925, it resided on a grassy hill circled by pavement. The platform that the general stood on was decorative and held a bronze relief of the general’s deeds on each side of the platform. A plaque was fixed below the memorial informing the viewer of its importance. When Argentina’s president visited in 1985, the environment around the memorial had changed drastically since the time of the piece’s installment. The memorial underwent significant alterations when a metro station was put beneath the small park the statue inhabits. Since the statue had to be temporarily removed, it was decided that it should also get a makeover. The platform was replaced with slabs of concrete and placed directly on pavement and bricks rather than in the center of a small plot of grass. In addition, a small wall was installed behind the memorial with an inscription comparing General Jose de San Martin to America’s George Washington due to their similar role as bearers of independence.
The memorial physically demonstrates that while times and styles have changed, the ideals held by world democracies have not. Though the memorial itself has undergone change in the past century, the ideals of liberty, democracy, and justice presented by General Jose de San Martin’s life two centuries ago remain relevant in our modern world.