Kristin Zavislak

  Illinois Wesleyan senior Kristin Zavislak (far right) poses in Roman garb while in Italy this summer. Zavislak’s paper comparing President Abraham Lincoln to Roman Emperor Caesar Augustus garnered attention at a national conference.

Student Presentation Sees Push for Peace from Lincoln, Augustus

November 24, 2008

BLOOMINGTON, Ill. – For Illinois Wesleyan University senior Kristin Zavislak, seeing the Ara Pacis – the Roman Emperor Augustus’ monument to peace in Rome – was more than breathtaking, it was oddly familiar.

“I started to notice how the Ara Pacis Augustae was strikingly similar to the Lincoln Memorial,” said Zavislak, a Greek and Roman Studies major from Lombard, Ill.

Her discoveries were recognized earlier this year when Zavislak was chosen as one of five undergraduate students from across the United States to present at the Classical Association of the Middle West and South in Asheville, N.C. Her topic, “An American Emperor and the Roman President: Images of Lincoln and Augustus,” garnered attention. “I heard people talking in the lobby about my presentation, and knew then it was going to draw a crowd,” said Zavislak.

The classical influence on American artists was especially strong in Lincoln’s time.  Known as Neoclassicism, it was a period when artists discovered a rebirth of interest in ancient Greek and Roman architecture and art. Zavislak’s paper explored the similar look and feel of art depicting President Abraham Lincoln and the Roman Emperor Caesar Augustus.

It was more than the classical look that connect Lincoln and Augustan art, Zavislak discovered. Both share a common theme. “These works had a specific purpose. You have to remember that Lincoln and Augustus were leaders who both went through brutal civil wars,” she said. “Where you would see war-like images of [Augustus’ rival] Marc Anthony on horseback, or [previous U.S. Presidents] with swords drawn, you would see Lincoln sitting humbly and thinking, or Augustus performing sacrifices for peace. The art represented promises of peace.”

Neoclassicism in America, which ran from the middle of the 18th century to the end of the 19th century, could bring about surprising images, said Zavislak, who noted seeing an unforgettable sculpture of George Washington modeled after the Greek god Zeus housed in the Smithsonian Museum. “Seeing him without his shirt on was not really the image I had of Washington from elementary school,” she said.

Zavislak, who plans on becoming a professor, believes in making the study of the classics relevant to people today. “There is so much of today’s society that comes from the Greeks and Romans. Art, politics, language and architecture are all heavily borrowed from them,” said Zavislak. “I want to show people the connections we have to the past and the applications we have made from it.”

Contact: Rachel Hatch, (309) 556-3960