The Capitol Dome

2018 Dome 55.1

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45 THE CAPITOL DOME Fig. 16. Embarkation of the Pilgrims by Robert W. Weir the Mississippi to New England, Rothermel's paintings offer us a map of American geopolitics in the 1840s and 1850s, from excitement about territorial conquest to the south, to anxieties about the spread of slavery to the new lands annexed from Mexico, to a retreat and ide- alization of the founders of Protestant New England. In all these themes, Rothermel was aligned with Whig/ Republican concerns in Philadelphia. Rothermel's views of the Spanish conquest say more about Philadel- phia and Washington, D.C. in the 1840s and 1850s than they do about the sixteenth-century con- quest. But that is always the case with history paint- ing. In capturing a moment in history, the artist almost always tells us more about his own time than the one he aims to portray. Thus, from Rothermel's paintings of Cort├ęs and De Soto, we may be able to learn more about the territorial conquest of the Mexican-American War and anxieties over immigration and slavery than we can about the conquest of Mexico by Spain. ANNA O. MARLEY, PH.D. is curator of historical American art at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia. Her ongoing exhibition project will be a sustained comparative study of Brazilian and Mexican paintings of the same period revealing the entangled artistic and political ideologies of the aca- demic hemisphere. This research was made possible by USCHS's Capitol Fellowship. The author particularly wishes to thank Michele Cohen, curator, Architect of the Capitol, and William C. di Giacomantonio, chief historian at the U.S. Capitol Historical Society, for their unflagging support of this project.

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