To be honest, much of the beauty of the Lincoln Memorial has nothing to do with Lincoln at all.
The architect of that monument, Henry Bacon, created a Doric temple with proportions that invite both majesty and contemplation. Inside and on the portico, one has air, space, light and dark. Beyond the portico, a flat rectangular pool stretches long, inviting stillness but also water birds, tourists, green grass.
The seated statue of Lincoln was completed by Daniel Chester French in 1920. Originally commissioned as a statue ten foot high, it was thought the statue would be dwarfed by its grand space. The statue stands 19 feet high. In it, Lincoln sits in a tailed coat and pantaloons, no Greek robes or other aggrandizing regalia. He is as, perhaps, he was: only larger than life. The statue reinforces the contemplative nature of the space.
One can read trouble, patience, resignation on Lincoln's face according to one's mood or primary take on our 16th president. We can contemplate the nature of individual sacrifice. But all around his image, the classical puts his virtues in the context of the widest and best traditions of Western scholarship: restraint in decoration, faultless attention to proportion, the call of history, the lure of philosophy, inevitability of death, and yet a lack of decay. That lack of decay says that time may pass, but eternal verities continue.
Small wonder that Marian Anderson sang here for Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt after the Daughters of the American Revolution disdained to have her; that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., gave his "I Have a Dream" speech here; that others have sought to invoke Lincoln in their politics upon his portico. For it is not just Lincoln, it is art; it is design; it is a splendid work of monumental art.
Wikipedia has more on the Memorial. Also the National Park Service runs a Web site with good information.
Photos: Windy City Art; Three by Ann T. Hathaway; last by I love Oregon dotcom;
I leave you with Marian Anderson, the great coloratura soprano, at the Lincoln Memorial in 1939.
I hope you enjoy. Have a great weekend, everyone!