EXPLORE THE U. S. CAPITOL ART — Roger Sherman Statue, by Chauncey B. Ives

“Roger Sherman, born in Newton, Massachusetts, on April 19, 1721, exemplifies the self-made man. After attending the local “common” schools he was apprenticed as a cobbler, but he became a self-taught mathematician and scholar. After his father’s death he entered business with his brother in Connecticut and studied and practiced law. From 1755 until his death he was active in public affairs, including service as Newton County surveyor, an associate justice on the Supreme Court of the colony, and a member of the state legislature. Treasurer of Yale University from 1765 to 1776, he was later awarded an honorary degree. In 1774 he was elected the first mayor of New Haven, a post he held until his death.

Respected by his contemporaries, Sherman helped draft the Declaration of Independence. Patrick Henry called him one of the three greatest men at the Constitutional Convention. He proposed the dual system of congressional representation, which was adopted. Under the pseudonym “A Countryman” he wrote a series of newspaper letters to the people of Connecticut supporting the Constitution.

Elected a representative to the first Congress in 1789-1791 and to the senate in 1791, he was regarded as one of the most influential members of Congress. Roger Sherman died on July 23, 1793, and is buried in New Haven.”
-Excerpt courtesy of the Architect of the Capitol. (top) “Clio, the Muse of History, stands in a winged chariot representing the passage of time and records events as they occur.” Image courtesy of the Architect of the Capitol, Flickr, USCapitol, “Car of History Clock,” by Carlo Franzoni, marble, National Statuary Hall, 1819

Rider’s Washington, by Fremont Rider

“We enter, directly beneath the great Rotunda, the so-called Crypt, a circular chamber with a coronade of forty Doric columns, modeled after the Temple at Paestum. These columns are surmounted by groined arches supporting the floor above. The exact center of the Capitol building is indicated by a star in the pavement. To the east is the Suffrage Group presented by American women: A rough marble pedestal surmounted by busts of Lucretia Mott, Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, the work of Adelaide Johnson. The sub-basement, below this crypt, was originally planned to contain the tomb of George Washington. Since 1865 it has been the receptacle of the bier used to sustain the coffin of Abraham Lincoln and other notable Americans who have lain in state in the Capitol.

Immediately S. of the crypt are the offices of the Chief Clerk of the House. In the N. E. room of this suite was situated the Washington terminus of Morse’s first telegraph line, connecting Washington with the Railway station on Pratt St., Baltimore. Here, on May 24th, 1842, Miss Annie G. Ellsworth, daughter of Henry L. Ellsworth, then Commissioner of Patents, sent the first telegraphic message, ‘What hath God wrought!’ The strip of paper on which the telegraphic characters of this message were printed is now in the Athenaeum, Hartford, Conn.”
-Excerpt courtesy of Archive.org, The Library of Congress, “Rider’s Washington; a guide book for travelers, with 3 maps and 22 plans,” by Fremont Rider, 1922


“This center section of the building was completed in 1827 under the direction of the third Architect of the Capitol, Charles Bulfinch. The Crypt’s 40 Doric columns of brown stone surmounted by groined sandstone arches support the floor of the Rotunda. The star in the center of the floor denotes the point from which the streets in Washington are laid out and numbered. Located in the Crypt are 13 statues from the National Statuary Hall Collection, representing the 13 original colonies, and the Magna Carta replica and display.”

Magna Carta Replica and Display

“The Magna Carta display in the Crypt of the U.S. Capitol features a replica of the English document whose principles underlie much of the Constitution. The entire display was made in England by the artist Louis Osman and was presented to the United States as a gift from the British government to celebrate the bicentennial of American independence.

Magna Carta (Latin for ‘Great Charter’) was sealed by King John of England at Runnymede, near Windsor Castle, on June 15, 1215, after the king was forced by his barons to agree to the charter’s contents. Dissatisfied with the king’s capricious rule, the noblemen had united to limit his powers. Magna Carta forbade arbitrary arrest and imprisonment, established the rights to a fair trial and to security of property, and guaranteed that the nation’s government was itself subject to the same laws as its subjects. In succeeding years, the document provided a written foundation upon which many individual rights and liberties were developed and elaborated.

The English colonists who settled in North America were well aware of these rights and liberties, and abuses by King George III finally resulted in the American Declaration of Independence. That document and, later, the Constitution were in many ways influenced by the basic principles of Magna Carta.

During June and July of 1215, 13 known copies of Magna Carta were written by hand in Medieval Latin on parchment and distributed throughout England. Only four survive: one at Lincoln Cathedral, one at Salisbury Cathedral, and two in the British Library. The text in the United States Capitol’s Crypt display is that of one of the British Library copies. Because this copy, known as the Wyems copy, is marked with additions and corrections that are incorporated in the text of the other known copies, it is recognized as the earliest extant.

The display pedestal in the Crypt of the U.S. Capitol consists of Yorkshire sandstone surmounted by a block of pegmatite, a rare three-billion-year-old volcanic stone from the Outer Hebrides. On this rests a presentation case made of stainless steel in the form of a hinged, flat box clad in gold and white enamel. The gold panel inside the lower section of the case holds raised gold text duplicating that of Magna Carta; gold replicas of King John’s seal are at the left of the document. On the glass center divider are gold incised letters forming the English translation of Magna Carta.

The other half of the case holds a gold plate engraved with symbolic designs depicting the sun and the moon, Adam and Eve, a crab with eyes of black pearls, a dragon with emerald eyes, and a dove of peace with sapphire eyes. The small diamonds in the hair of Eve are stars; the pearls are raindrops. Above the dove and between her wings are 50 diamonds, representing the 50 states. The three-dimensional figures assembled over the engraved plate are intended to suggest a 12th-century version of a 13th-century illuminated manuscript. At the base are the four rivers of paradise, from which springs the tree of life. The snake represents evil; the ivy, protection. The apples are the forbidden fruit, and the mistletoe represents family affection and loyalty.

The blossoms on the tree branches are the Tudor Rose of England — white flowers for the house of York and red for the house of Lancaster. The combined red and white flowers signify the resolution of conflict. Other symbolic plants include the shamrock for Ireland, thistles for Scotland and daffodils for Wales. The oak, for Britain, grows into the Royal Coat of Arms, with the lion and the unicorn composed of gold and silver and set with precious gems.

The entire display was made in England by the artist Louis Osman, who had also crafted the crown for the investiture of Prince Charles. The display was presented to the United States as a gift from the British government to celebrate the bicentennial of American independence. Representatives of the British Parliament and the United States Congress formalized the gift at a ceremony in the Capitol Rotunda on June 3, 1976. For the next year, the original Wyems copy of Magna Carta was displayed in the case atop the gold replica; it was returned to England on June 13, 1977. The placement of the display in the Rotunda was authorized by concurrent resolution.

The display remained in the Rotunda until August 2010, when it was moved to the Crypt. During this relocation, the presentation case was conserved.”
-Excerpt courtesy of the Architect of the Capitol: https://www.aoc.gov/explore-capitol-campus/buildings-grounds/capitol-building/crypt

National Statuary Hall

“National Statuary Hall in the U.S. Capitol Building is built in the shape of an ancient amphitheater and is one of the earliest examples of Greek revival architecture in America. While most wall surfaces are painted plaster, the low gallery walls and pilasters are of sandstone.

Around the room’s perimeter stand colossal columns of variegated Breccia marble quarried along the Potomac River. The Corinthian capitals of white marble were carved in Carrara, Italy. A lantern in the fireproof cast-steel ceiling admits natural light into the Hall.

The chamber floor is laid with black and white marble tiles; the black marble was purchased specifically for the chamber, while the white marble was scrap material from the U.S. Capitol extension project. The four fireplaces on the south side of the room, in conjunction with an ingenious central heating system, warmed the room during cold months.

Only two of the many statues presently in the room were commissioned for display in the original Hall of the House. Enrico Causici’s neoclassical plaster Liberty and the Eagle looks out over the Hall from a niche above the colonnade behind what was once the Speaker’s rostrum. The sandstone relief eagle in the frieze of the entablature below was carved by Giuseppe Valaperta. Above the door leading into the Capitol Rotunda is the Car of History by Carlo Franzoni (pictured at the top of this post.) This neoclassical marble sculpture depicts Clio, the Muse of History, riding in the chariot of Time and recording events in the chamber below. The wheel of the chariot contains the chamber clock; the works are by Simon Willard.

Today, National Statuary Hall is one of the most popular rooms in the U.S. Capitol Building. It, and its collection of statuary from individual states, is visited by thousands of tourists each day and continues to be used for ceremonial occasions. Special events held in the room include activities honoring foreign dignitaries and presidential luncheons.

This chamber is the second built for the House of Representatives in this location. An earlier Hall, designed by Benjamin Henry Latrobe, was completed in 1807; however, it was destroyed when invading British troops burned the U.S. Capitol in 1814.

The Hall was rebuilt in its present form by Latrobe and his successor, Charles Bulfinch, between 1815 and 1819. Unfortunately, the smooth, curved ceiling promoted annoying echoes, making it difficult to conduct business. Various attempts to improve the acoustics, including hanging draperies and reversing the seating arrangement, proved unsuccessful. The only solution to this problem was to build an entirely new Hall, one in which debates could be easily understood. In 1850, a new Hall was authorized, and the House moved into its present chamber in the new House wing in 1857.

Many important events took place in this Chamber while it served as the Hall of the House. It was in this room in 1824 that the Marquis de Lafayette became the first foreign citizen to address Congress. Presidents James Madison, James Monroe, John Quincy Adams, Andrew Jackson and Millard Fillmore were inaugurated here. John Quincy Adams, in particular, has long been associated with the Chamber. It was here in 1824 that he was elected President by the House of Representatives, none of the candidates having secured a majority of electoral votes. Following his presidency, Adams served as a Member in the Hall for 17 years. He collapsed at his desk from a stroke on February 21, 1848, and died 2 days later in an adjoining room.

The fate of the vacated Hall remained uncertain for many years, although various proposals were put forth for its use. Perhaps the simplest was that it be converted into additional space for the Library of Congress, which was still housed in the U.S. Capitol. More drastic was the suggestion that the entire Hall be dismantled and replaced by two floors of committee rooms. Eventually, the idea of using the chamber as an art gallery was approved, and works intended for the U.S. Capitol extensions were put on exhibit; among these was the plaster model for the Statue of Freedom, which was later cast in bronze for the Capitol dome. The lack of wall space effectively prevented the hanging of large paintings, but the room seemed well suited to the display of statuary.

In 1864, Congress invited each state to contribute two statues of prominent citizens for permanent display in the room, which was renamed National Statuary Hall. The legislation also provided for the replacement of the chamber’s floor, which was leveled and covered with the marble tile currently in the Hall. This modification, along with the replacement of the original wooden ceiling (which was painted to simulate three-dimensional coffering) with the present one in the early 20th century, eliminated most of the echoes that earlier plagued the room.

Initially all of the state statues were placed in National Statuary Hall. As the collection expanded, however, it outgrew the Hall, and in 1933, Congress authorized the display of the statues throughout the building for both aesthetic and structural reasons. Presently, 38 statues are located in National Statuary Hall.

The room was partially restored in 1976 for the bicentennial celebration. At that time, the original fireplaces were uncovered and replicas of early mantels were installed. Reproductions of the chandelier, sconces, and red draperies were created for the restoration project based on the 1822 oil painting by Samuel F.B. Morse, The House of Representatives, which now hangs in the Corcoran Gallery of Art. Bronze markers were placed on the floor to honor the presidents who served in the House of Representatives while it met there.”
-Excerpt courtesy of the Architect of the Capitol, National Statuary Hall: https://www.aoc.gov/explore-capitol-campus/buildings-grounds/capitol-building/house-wing/statuary-hall

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