The Capitol Dome

Summer 2013

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in the .S. Capitol Native Americans in Nineteenth-Century Capitol Art UNITED STATES CAPITOL HISTORICAL SOCIETY by Mark N. Ozer A s we observe the bicentennial of the War of 1812, the causation of the war remains unclear; its course fitful and uncertain; its results ambiguous. However, there was one clear result recognized at the time, which has remained prominent and has become even clearer in retrospect. Moreover, it became one of the major themes to be celebrated in the decoration of the antebellum expansion of the United States Capitol. At a time of fierce sectional differences, there was one aspect on which the north and south could both agree and celebrate—the elimination of Native American resistance in the Old Northwest. The "Descent of the American Indian" is the motif of one of the dominant stories told in the decoration of the Capitol in the nineteenth century. There are several instances where this motif was carried out. The central East Front entrance was the site of 24 THE CAPITOL DOME sculptures by Horace Greenough and Luigi Persico, now no longer on view. Luigi Persico's Discovery of America (placed 1844), located on the south cheek block, depicts the figure of Columbus standing upright holding the globe in his outstretched right arm with a semi-nude native female crouching beneath (fig. 1). James Buchanan, then a Pennsylvania senator, was effusive in his praise of his friend's statue: "The great discoverer when he first bounded with ecstasy upon the shore . . . presenting a hemisphere to the astonished world . . . a female savage, with awe and wonder in her countenance, is gazing upon him." The figure group entitled Rescue (placed 1853) that Horace Greenough designed for the Fig. 1. Stereoview by Bell & Bro., 1867, of Luigi Persico, Discovery of America, marble, erected 1844, removed 1958, transferred to Smithsonian Institution, 1976. 2013

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