The Capitol Dome

2017 Dome 54.1

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34 possible damage to paintings by ignorant visitors. In his response Trumbull objected because lateral light through windows in rectangular picture galleries— from the Grand Gallery of the Louvre to New York City Hall's Governor's Room—was "bad light"—that is, unstable, constantly changing from shadowy to bright. He harked back to his discussions with Latrobe and his drawings: "I have never seen paintings so advanta- geously placed in respect to light and space, as I think mine would be, in the proposed circular room, illumina- tion from above." Diffuse light from above that flooded rooms—as from cupolas atop domes such as Trumbull depicted atop his vestibule—was valued by architects because of its even clarity, free from exterior moving shadows. Busby wrote "lighted from above" in the cen- ter of his depiction of his "Grand Vestibule." Trumbull noted that his design would solve Bulfinch's two objec- tions to using the Rotunda as an art gallery—separation of art works from visitors and even light. 11 Although Trumbull sketched his dome as a smooth hemisphere (with no coffers indicated) his depiction of the overall circular form of his two-story space implied the Roman Pantheon, the model proposed by several of the Capitol's early designers. Other features Trumbull described in his letter to Bulfinch that appeared in his sketch are the frieze topped by a cornice between the Rotunda and Dome and door and picture frames. Although only depicted in a rudimentary fashion, these architectural ornaments can be identif ied with the American Georgian tradition of the time of the Revolution. I want not a column nor a capital; plain solid walls, embellished only by four splendid door-casings of white marble and elegant workmanship; a fascia of white marble running around the room, with an ornament somewhat like that which surmounts the basement story on the outside; and a frieze crowning the top of the wall, where, either now or at some future time, basso-relievos may be intro- duced; these are all the decorations which I pro- pose, except the paintings. 12 Between these two walls I place grand quadru- ple stairs, beginning at the doors of the two halls, and mounting on the right and left, to the floor of the dome vestibule [rotunda]. Twenty feet within this inner wall of the stairs, I raise a third con- centric wall, of equal, or (if required) of greater solidity. 13 No surviving copy depicts Trumbull's third drawing sent to Bulfinch. No. 3, is a slight ideal view of the grand vestibule and staircase, as seen at entering from the hall of either portico….Perhaps I am wrong, for we are all partial to the off-spring of our own minds; yet I cannot but believe; that the effect of such a room would be peculiarly grand and imposing, from the union of vastness of dimensions with simplicity of form and decoration. 14 Just as Bulfinch quietly went about erecting his own modest redesign of Latrobe's Rotunda, he also ignored another of Trumbull's suggestions in a 17 April 1818 letter, to "plant out" the lower of Bulfinch's two basements on the west front. Rather, the architect revised and simpli- fied Latrobe's scheme of a level terrace that connected the Capitol's east and west grounds before descending via walkways to the foot of Capitol Hill. But a careful examination of pertinent visual and documentary evi- dence shows direct links between Trumbull's descrip- tions, his surviving sketches and drawings, and Busby's etchings that correct a long-held misconception among scholars (including this one) that Busby drew some planned version by Bulfinch for completing the Capitol's center building. 15 PAM SCOTT is an independent scholar who has been researching, teaching, and writing about Washington's architectural, planning, and landscape histories for the past 35 years. She is the U.S. Capitol Historical Society Resident Scholar. THE CAPITOL DOME

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