Exhibition Spotlight: Society of Cincinnati Certificate

By Annabel Steele

This semester, the McMullen Museum is highlighting Japanese art through the “Eaglemania” exhibit and Spanish art through the “Cuenca: City of Spanish Abstraction” exhibit. Student ambassadors on the Publication committee will select one piece from these collections to highlight in The Terrace.

SOTC M.1938.9294 Diploma frame, with contents - Staley 2017

We’re a few weeks past Presidents’ Day, but there’s never a bad time to highlight when presidential artifacts make their way to Boston College. And tucked away in the “Eaglemania” exhibit this semester is a Society of the Cincinnati certificate signed by George Washington himself.

The Society of the Cincinnati advertises itself as “the nation’s oldest patriotic organization.” Founded during the Revolutionary War, the Society of the Cincinnati was originally a club for Continental Army officers. Today, it is a nonprofit run out of Anderson House in Washington, D.C.

And that’s fitting indeed, because the Society of the Cincinnati certificate, like so much of the “Eaglemania” exhibit, comes to the McMullen from the Anderson estate. In the eighteenth century, Larz Anderson’s great-grandfather, Richard Clough Anderson, was made a member of the Society of the Cincinnati. Society rules dictate that membership in the organization is passed down to one male descendant, and so in the late nineteenth century Larz became the Anderson representative in the Society.

The certificate itself features an inscription for Richard Clough Anderson and commends the first American Army’s efforts to defeat British forces. The certificate explains that the Society of the Cincinnati is intended to “commemorate the great event which gave independence to North America.” The inscription is signed by none other than George Washington himself.

Below the inscription is an illustration featuring a Roman soldier running into battle with an eagle by his side, representing the American army. The bottom of the certificate shows a great naval battle, with a lion (representing Great Britain) to the side of the warships.

But beyond the eagle flanking the Roman soldier on the certificate itself, there is more eagle imagery surrounding this piece. When Larz became a member of the Society of the Cincinnati, he had a custom frame made to house the certificate. This gilded frame features the Society of the Cincinnati insignia towards the top, but above that is perched a large bronze eagle, literally on the top of the frame.

Come to the McMullen to see the Society of the Cincinnati certificate and other great works of art in person!

Leave a Reply