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  • Writer's pictureJason Jenn

Art of the Capitol

After the shocking events of the Jan. 6 U.S. Capitol Riots, I compiled this highlight list of facts about the Art of the Capitol for the Torrance Art Museum. This personally helped bring some peace of mind to reflect upon the art rather than the domestic terror and political ramifications of that day – and I think you’ll also enjoy find out some fascinating details about some of the over 300 works of art it contains.

ART OF THE CAPITOL

All eyes have been keenly upon the US Capitol since the shocking events of Jan 6, 2021, and the ramifications of it all are yet to be seen. It’s worthy of note that in addition to the building as the seat of Congress, it houses a collection of over 300 historical works of art. This edition of Please Don’t Touch the Art includes links to various articles and resources to explore more.

ARCHITECT OF THE CAPITOL

TheArchitect of the Capitol staff preserves and maintains the historic buildings, monuments, art and inspirational gardens on the Capitol campus. They have a great deal of information on each work accessible online here:

DAMAGE REPORT

A detailed assessment of damage caused to those works is still underway, but it appears that some of the most significant works did not suffer any serious harm. For more about that process, read:

UNCANNY CONNECTIONS

John Trumbull,  General George Washington Resigning His Commission , 1826, 12’X18’, Oil on canvas

John Trumbull, General George Washington Resigning His Commission, 1826, 12’X18’, Oil on canvas

There’s been a lot of buzz about some of photographs from the riots relating in some manner to events within the works of art portrayed at the Capitol. National Geographic recently posted this article by an art curator that details some of those uncanny connections.

HALL OF STATUES

Recently, the removal of controversial art at the Capitol made the news as efforts are being made to include more Black, Indigenous and People of Color in the Capitol collection, particularly among the statuary.

The Hall of Statues features 100 statues (two from each state). In December 2020, Virgina removed the confederate general (and notable insurrectionist) Robert E. Lee and is replacing it with a statue of Barbara Johns, a civil rights pioneer.

While located in the Hall of Statues, a statue of Rosa Parks is historically significant as being the first full-length statue of an African American person in the U.S. Capitol. Recently it made the news as some troops brought in to defend the capitol posed for pictures with her.

THE CAPITOL ROTUNDA

The Rotunda of the U.S. Capitol is where the most eminent citizens are given the honor to lay in state. The dome ceiling features a very Zeus-like image of George Washington surrounded by 13 female figures that represent the 13 original states/colonies and Greek gods along the side.

THE STATUE OF FREEDOM

The Statue of Freedom (originally titled Freedom Triumphant Over War and Peace and also known as Armed Freedom) rests atop the U.S. Capitol. While not as well known as the Statue of Liberty, this icon of Columbia (the personification of America) shares an equally iconic pose. Of note is her military helmet adorned with stars, and an eagle’s head and plume. She wears a Native American blanket strewn across her shoulder.

It was designed by American sculptor Thomas Crawford at a studio in Rome and shipped as 5 plaster pieces in the mid 1800’s to the United States where it was to be cast in bronze. Interestingly, it was the work of a slave, Philip Reid, who helped make it possible to properly create and install the final version. By the time The Statue of Freedom was raised atop the Capitol dome in December 1862, Reid had been declared a free man after Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation executive order in September 22, 1862.

For more about the history – watch:


THE TINY DOORS

The Capitol building features a series of tiny, odd-looking doors in the walls, which actually house a unique engineering achievement by Captain Montgomery Cunningham Meigs. He helped design the Washington Aquaduct, an elaborate system that brought fresh water from the Potomac River throughout the capitol in response to a terrible fire in the Library of Congress that tragically destroyed 35,000 volumes on Christmas Eve 1851. It’s a fascinating history explained here:


Finally, it should come as no surprise that the most featured figure in the art collection is George Washington.

We hope you enjoyed this little exploration of the works – compiled by Jason Jenn, TAM Outreach Specialist

 
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