The Capitol Dome

Winter 2015-16

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2 A s the bicentennial year of 1976 approached, many American individuals, organizations, and institutions sought ways to recognize and celebrate this major milestone in our nation's his- tory. While some planned events such as festivals, parades, con- certs, and firework displays, others focused on projects of a more enduring nature. roughout the world and across the centuries, works of art and architecture have been one of the most visible ways of commemorating events, individuals, and peoples that have played a major role in the lives of communities and nations, and so figure prominently in their collective memory. Intended for a diverse public audience, these artifacts ideally merge aes- thetic with social and political concerns in order to communicate and instill a sense of shared civic identity and historical memo- ry. is principle can be observed throughout the U.S. Capitol, where its art and architecture—from the earliest to more recent additions, some commissioned and some donated by individual states and other entities—plays a central role in constructing "official" visual narratives of American history, culture, and poli- tics as conceptualized at different moments in the nation's past. e objects and images housed here also serve a didactic function, for although there has never been a single, codified plan for the acquisition of art in the Capitol, the teaching potential of paint- ing, sculpture, and architecture has long been associated with the building's exterior and interior spaces and its decorative program. omas Jefferson, for example, envisioned "the Congress Hall" as yet another of his "models of good taste," while George Wash- ington viewed it as part of the "general diffusion of knowledge" required to educate citizens of the new democracy. 1 Among the most visible and well-known examples of this mode of thinking about public art and its role in advancing the informed citizenship advocated by Washington, as well as the collective historical memory that supports it, are John Trumbull's four large-scale paintings of the American Revolution in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda (fig. 1). Commissioned in 1817 and installed in 1826 aer the construction of the Rotunda was completed, these works comprised the first major Congressional commission awarded to an American artist, and so set a model for subsequent "national" works of art housed in the Capitol. In later decades and centuries, the didactic intent (if not always the clearly visual- ized message) of Trumbull's Revolutionary War images would be echoed in a variety of styles, mediums, and locations through- out the Capitol. 2 Later visual and architectural projects continu- ally refer back to the older fabric of the Capitol as they expand upon it, and in this way express the concepts of continuity within change, and unity within multiplicity, that guide the evolution of the building, the nation it represents, and the Congress it houses. With this and other artistic and historical precedents in mind —the large body of work completed in the nineteenth century by painter Constantino Brumidi, for example—it was particu- larly appropriate that the U.S. Capitol Historical Society, then under the leadership of Rep. Fred Schwengel (1906-1993), chose to mark the nation's bicentennial by undertaking an ambitious mural series spanning three first floor corridors in the House wing of the U.S. Capitol (fig. 2). e artist, Allyn Cox, began plan- MODERN MURALISTS of the CAPITOL: Allyn Cox and Jeffrey Greene by Debra Hanson

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