The Capitol Dome

Fall 2016

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FROM THE EDITOR'S DESK Every painting in the U.S. Capitol, just by virtue of its location, becomes a historical painting. But a "history painting" is something else entirely. And for much of the early history of the Republic, it represented the apex of the painter's art. Portraiture paid the bills, but successful "Grand Manner" history painting was how any ambitious painter sought to win patronage and esteem. Sir Joshua Reynolds, the first president of the Royal Academy of Arts (1768), demanded that proper history painting be "poetic" by representing its subject in an idealized style. John Trumbull inherited that legacy and enshrined it in his series of history paintings about the American Revolutionary War. But while Trumbull's four paintings in the Rotunda give him pride of place, others have been at work producing historical art in the Capitol—and of the Capitol. Three articles in the current issue of The Capitol Dome pay tribute to that evolv- ing tradition. Towering above Trumbull's paintings—spatially, if not aesthetically—is the epic Frieze of American History. The third and fifteenth scenes in that cycle, by Constantino Brumidi and Filippo Costaggini respectively, fall under Matthew Restall's microscopic analysis, which reveals how two separate conquests of Mexico, 400 years apart, were paired to serve the purpose of nation-building. Like Trumbull, William H. Powell won a coveted spot along the walls of the Rotunda for his monumental depic- tion of De Soto "discovering" the Mississippi. His Battle of Lake Erie is even larger, but for the past 150 years it has been installed in a ceremonial space where very few Capitol visitors are able to view it. Art historian Debra Hanson takes us there and de- scribes how it, too, takes artistic license by disserving historical accuracy in order to serve the public. Rounding out the theme and this issue is a look at the work of a rare modern-day practitioner of history painting. Peter Waddell's paintings of the Capitol are decidedly contemporary, in both their non-didactic purpose and their utterly candid composition—and the editorial staff hopes the interview format captures some of that unguarded spontaneity. Ken Bowling offers a brief follow-up to his recent article on the Bill of Rights by surveying the physical fate of the manuscript copies sent out to the states for their rati- fication. Frequent Dome writer Pam Scott contextualizes a little-known primary source that sheds a fascinating perspective on one of the most obscure periods in the history of Congress—and one of the many displaced fathers who have served in it. Scott's piece is her inaugural contribution as the Society's Resident Scholar. The position was estab- lished during the summer, with the earmarked donations of individual Society mem- bers, and helps to extend the full-time staff's effectiveness by providing assistance on a part-time, ad hoc basis. We hope you share our enthusiasm for welcoming Pam Scott and her regular submissions to The Capitol Dome. William diGiacomantonio

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