The Capitol Dome

Winter 2015-16

Issue link:

Contents of this Issue


Page 11 of 43

10 DEBRA HANSON is an art historian and received her PhD in Art History from Virginia Commonwealth University School of the Arts in 2005; she is currently an assistant professor of art history at VCU's Middle Eastern campus in Doha, Qatar. She is also assistant director of the Honors Program at VCUQatar. Hanson has been awarded numerous fellowships from the U.S. Capitol Historical Society to conduct research at the Capitol and has written and presented extensively on the intersections of art, architectural space, politics, and historical memory within the Capitol. Hanson has twice been the recipient of a Capitol Fellowship, through which USCHS provides financial support to scholars researching important topics in the art and architectural history of the United States Capitol Complex. In both 2008 and 2010, her work focused on westward expansion and way it has been portrayed in the Capitol, including the "Westward Expansion Corridor" that figures in this article. USCHS has published her research in several articles in e Capitol Dome, and Hanson has also presented several USCHS brown bag lectures. Notes 1. In choosing the Maison Carre, an ancient Roman temple, as the model for his design for the Virginia State Capitol in Richmond, Jefferson asked, "How is a taste in this beautiful art [architecture] to be formed in our countrymen, unless we avail ourselves of every occasion when public buildings are to be erected, of presenting them as models for study and imita- tion?" ( Jefferson to James Madison, September, 1785 in Koch and Peden, ed., The Life and Selected Writings of Thomas Jefferson [New York, 1998], 354). Jefferson followed the same principle with regard to the planning and design of the U.S. Capitol, then as now one of the nation's primary public build- ings. In the same letter, Jefferson wrote, "You see, I am an enthu- siast on the subject of the arts, but it is an enthusiasm of which I am not ashamed, as its object is to improve the taste of my coun- trymen…." In his 1796 Farewell Address, George Washington advised his audience to "promote, then, as an object of primary importance, institutions for the general diffusion of knowledge as…it is essential that [in a democracy] public opinion should be enlightened" ( asp, accessed August 6, 2015). 2. While the historical and moral lessons conveyed by e Signing of the Declaration of Independence were praised by Trumbull's contemporaries—the October 20, 1818 edition of e American Mercury, for example, advised that "every American ought to view this painting...that they may become familiar with the faces of these, our glorious benefactor"—the stylistic qualities of e Signing have oen been criticized. V irg inia's Representative John Randolph of Roanoke famously decried the work as "a shin-piece, for surely there was never such a collection of legs submitted to the eyes of man," and later critics have bemoaned, variously, its static formality, stiffness, and inaccurate details. For a more recent assessment, see Irma Jaffe, "Virtue and Virtual Reality in John Trumbull's 'Pantheon,'" Kennon and Somma, ed., American Pantheon: Sculptural and Artistic Decoration of the US Capitol (Athens, OH, 2004), 72-89. 3. For in-depth assessment of Brumidi and his work at the Capitol see Barbara Wolanin, Constantino Brumidi: Artist of the Capitol (Washington, DC, 1998) and Amy Burton and the US Senate Commission on Art, To Make Beautiful the Capitol: Rediscovering the Art of Constantino Brumidi (Washington, DC, 2014). 4. "Cox Paints American History," e Philadelphia Enquirer, June 29, 1981, 11A. 5. e term "academic art" refers to styles of painting and sculpture derived from the European art academies that exerted institutional control over the training of artists and exhibition of their work from the sixteenth to the mid-nineteenth century. While varying from artist to artist, the "academic style"— generally thought of as highly finished, polished, and conserva- tive, with subjects drawn from history and mytholog y rather than contemporary life—was, in the course of the nineteenth century, increasingly identified with conventional approaches to the making of art, and therefore in opposition to the progressive modernism of new avant-garde movements. 6. Allyn Cox to Senator eodore F. Green, February 16, 1950, Architect of the Capitol Curatorial files. 7. Frank van der Linder, "e Allyn Cox Interviews," oral history recording, U.S. Capitol Historical Society. 8. Henry Hope Reed, "An Interview with Allyn Cox," Classical America 3(1976), 28. 9. As noted in the first section of this essay, the Cox Corri- dors function as a highly visible and permanent statement of the U.S. Capitol Historical Society's ongoing educational mission within the precincts of the Capitol. Other educational initia- tives currently supported by the Society include fellowships and research internships; online tours and a "blog of history;" annual symposia and speakers' series; educational tours of the Capitol, its grounds, and Capitol Hill; a "Capitol Classroom" that provides lesson plans and other Capitol-related materials for K-12 teachers; and an annual Youth Leadership Forum. 10. Quoted in The Capitol Dome, vol. 17, number 4 (November 1982), 4.

Articles in this issue

Links on this page

Archives of this issue

view archives of The Capitol Dome - Winter 2015-16