The Capitol Dome

2017 Dome 54.1

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27 Fig. 2. Busby's 1823 east elevation of the Capitol shows John Trumbull's scheme to return to William Thornton's 1793 design. T his tale of discovery begins in a Fredericksburg, Virginia, antique shop. Bryan Shattuck visited on 4 December 2016, spied, and promptly bought a framed etching of a plan of the Capitol (fig. 1). He immediately contacted the U.S. Capitol Historical Society for infor- mation about his "find." And a wonderful find it is, a very rare etching of the main floor of the Capitol that has a pendant, the Capitol's East Front (fig. 2). Only one other copy of this plan is known to survive, valuable for the Capitol's history because functions of various spaces were identified on it (fig. 3). The measured drawings were made in 1819 in Washington, but not published until 1823 in London, by the home-educated British architect and engineer Charles Augustin Busby (1786- 1834). In the spring of 1817 the president of London's Royal Academy, the Pennsylvania-born history painter Benjamin West, wrote Busby a letter of introduction to John Trumbull (1756-1843), West's intermittent student between 1780 and 1815. .1 Trumbull is considered America's greatest painter of the Revolutionary era because from his youth he directed his exceptional artistic talent towards visually recording via sketches and portraits its civil and military leaders and the places where its momentous events occurred. Due to partial blindness Trumbull's participation in the war was limited to drawing maps of British fortifica- tions in the Boston area and serving as the second of George Washington's personal aides-de-camp. In 1780 Trumbull moved to London to study painting but was soon imprisoned by the British for spying. During sev- eral months of the winter of 1780-1781, Trumbull began his architectural studies via books visitors brought him in prison, the study of great works of architecture being the common way architects of his era were educated in their profession. (None of his constructed designs—all in Connecticut—has survived.) During 1786 Trumbull was invited by Thomas Jefferson, America's minister to France, to stay with him in Paris. He subsequently travelled widely with another of Jefferson's visitors, the young Boston architect Charles Bulfinch (1763-1844), THE CAPITOL DOME

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