United States Capitol rotunda


United States Capitol rotunda

The rotunda is the central rotunda of the United States Capitol, below the Capitol dome. It is the tallest part of the Capitol and has been described as its "symbolic and physical heart." The rotunda is surrounded by corridors connecting the House and Senate sides of the Capitol. To the south of the rotunda is the semicircular National Statuary Hall, which until 1857 was the House of Representatives chamber. The northeast of the Rotunda is the Old Senate Chamber, used by the Senate until 1859.

The Rotunda is 96 feet (29.26 m) in diameter and rises 180 feet 3 inches (54.94 m) to the canopy, and is visited by thousands of people each day. It is also used for ceremonial events authorized by concurrent resolution, including the lying in state of honored people.

Design and construction

The doctor and architect William Thornton was the winner of the contest to design the Capitol in 1793. Thornton had first conceived the idea of a central rotunda. However, due to lack of funds and resources, often interrupted construction, and British attack on Washington during the War of 1812, work on the rotunda did not begin until 1818. The rotunda was completed in 1824 under Architect of the Capitol Charles Bulfinch, as part of a series of new buildings and projects in preparation for the final visit of Marquis de Lafayette in 1824. The rotunda was designed in the neoclassical style and was intended to evoke the design of the Pantheon.

The sandstone rotunda walls rise convert|48|ft|m|0 above the floor; everything above this—the Capitol dome–was designed in 1854 by Thomas U. Walter, the fourth Architect of the Capitol. Walter had also designed the Capitol's north and south extensions. Work on the dome began in 1856 and in 1859 Walter redesigned the rotunda to consist of an inner and outer dome, with a canopy suspended between them that would be visible through an oculus at the top of the inner dome. In 1862 Walter asked painter Constantino Brumidi to design "a picture convert|65|ft|m|0 in diameter, painted in fresco, on the concave canopy over the eye of the New Dome of the U.S. Capitol." At this time Brumidi may have added a watercolor canopy design over Walter's tentative 1859 sketch. The dome was being finished in the middle of the American Civil War and was constructed from fireproof cast iron. During the Civil War the rotunda was used as a military hospital for Union soldiers. The dome was finally completed in 1866.

Apotheosis of Washington

"The Apotheosis of Washington" is the very large fresco painted by Italian artist Constantino Brumidi in 1865 atop the rotunda. Brumidi, who worked for three years in the Vatican under Pope Gregory XVI and served several aristocrats as an artist for palaces and villas, including the prince Torlonia, before immigrating to the United States in 1852, spent much of the last 25 years of his life working in the Capitol. In addition to the "Apotheosis of Washington" he designed the Brumidi Corridors.

Frieze of American History

The "Frieze of American History" is painted to appear as a carved stone bas-relief frieze but is actually a trompe-l'œil fresco cycle depicting 19 scenes from American history. The "frieze" occupies a band immediately below the 36 windows. Brumidi designed the frieze and prepared a sketch in 1859 but did not begin painting until 1878. Brumidi painted seven and a half scenes. While working on "William Penn and the Indians," Brumidi fell off the scaffolding and held on to a rail for 15 minutes until he was rescued. He died a few months later in 1880. After Brumidi's death, Filippo Costaggini was commissioned to complete the eight and a half remaining scenes in Brumidi's sketches. He finished in 1889 and left a convert|31|ft|m|0|sing=on gap due to an error in Brumidi's original design. In 1951, Allyn Cox completed the frieze.

Except for the last three panels named by Allyn Cox, the scenes have no particular titles and many variant titles have been given. The names given here are the names used by the Architect of the Capitol, which uses the names that Brumidi used most frequently in his letters and that were used in Edward Clark and by newspaper articles. The 19 panels are:

Historical paintings

Eight niches in the rotunda hold large, framed historical paintings. All are oil-on-canvas and measure 12 by 18 feet (3.6 m by 5.5 m). Four of these are scenes from the American Revolution, painted by John Trumbull, who was commissioned by Congress to do the work in 1817. These are "Declaration of Independence", "Surrender of General Burgoyne", "Surrender of Lord Cornwallis", and "General George Washington Resigning his Commission". These were placed between 1819 and 1824. Between 1840 and 1855, four more paintings were added. These depicted the exploration and colonization of America and were all done by different artists. These paintings are "Landing of Columbus" by John Vanderlyn, "Discovery of the Mississippi" by William Henry Powell, "Baptism of Pocahontas" by John Gadsby Chapman, and "Embarkation of the Pilgrims" by Robert Walter Weir.

Infobox Painting|



painting_alignment=left
title=Declaration of Independence
artist=John Trumbull
year=1819
type=Oil on canvas
height=30.5
width=45.7
height_feet=12
width_feet=18
city=Washington, D.C.
museum=Capitol rotunda

"Declaration of Independence" was the first painting that Trumbull completed for the rotunda. An iconic image and probably the most widely recognized of the paintings in the rotunda, the painting was commissioned in 1817, it was purchased in 1819 and placed in 1826. [Declaration of Independence. Architect of the Capitol. [http://www.aoc.gov/cc/art/rotunda/declaration_independence.cfm] ]

"Declaration of Independence" depicts John Adams, Robert Sherman, Benjamin Franklin, and the principle author, Thomas Jefferson—members of the Committee of Five, which drafted the Declaration of Independence—presenting the declaration to the Second Continental Congress and President John Hancock in July 1776 in Independence Hall in Philadelphia. [Declaration of Independence. Architect of the Capitol. [http://www.aoc.gov/cc/art/rotunda/declaration_independence.cfm] ]

The painting is not completely historically accurate and is somewhat anachronistic. Of the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence, 42 are represented; the rest are absent, possibly because they were not present at the adoption of the Declaration of Independence or had died by the time of Trumbull's painting. Four are included who did not sign the declaration but whom Trumbull found worthy also: George Clinton, Robert R. Livingston, Thomas Willing, and John Dickinson. ["The Declaration of Independence by John Trumbell." Americanrevolution.org. [http://www.americanrevolution.org/decsm.hml] ] A reproduction of it appears on the United States two-dollar bill. ["Facts About $2 Notes." Bureau of Engraving and Printing, United States Department of the Treasury. [http://www.bep.treas.gov/document.cfm/18/96] ]

Infobox Painting|



title=Surrender of General Burgoyne
artist=John Trumbull
year=1822
type=Oil on canvas
height=30.5
width=45.7
height_feet=12
width_feet=18
city=Washington, D.C.
museum=Capitol rotunda

"Surrender of General Burgoyne" was commissioned in 1817, purchased in 1822, and placed in 1826. It depicts the surrender of British soldiers under General John Burgoyne after the American victory at the Battle of Saratoga in 1777. This battle was a key victory for the Americans, prevented the division of New England, and secured French military assistance to the Americans. The central figure is Continental Army General Horatio Gates, who refused to take the sword offered by Burgoyne, and, treating his former foe as a gentleman, invited him into his tent. The other Americans to the right are other officers. Trumbull planned this outdoor scene to contrast with Declaration of Independence beside it. [ [http://www.aoc.gov/cc/art/rotunda/surrender_burgoyne.cfm Surrender of General Burgoyne] ]

Infobox Painting|



painting_alignment=left
title=Surrender of Lord Cornwallis
artist=John Trumbull
year=1820
type=Oil on canvas
height=30.5
width=45.7
height_feet=12
width_feet=18
city=Washington, D.C.
museum=Capitol rotunda

"Surrender of Lord Cornwallis" was commissioned in 1817 and placed in 1820. It depicts the final surrender of the British after the Battle of Yorktown in 1781, in which a combined American-French force led by George Washington, the Marquis de Lafayette, and Comte de Rochambeau over British troops under Lord Cornwallis. The surrender led to the cessation of major Revolutionary War hostilities and British recognition of American independence in the 1783 Treaty of Paris.

The scene here depicts the same event as the "Surrender of Cornwallis" panel of the "Frieze of American History." American General Benjamin Lincoln is portrayed at the center of the painting riding a white horse, with French officers on the left and Americans on the right, led by Washington on the brown horse. The British were represented by officers, but Lord Cornwallis himself was not present and was represented instead by Charles O'Hara. As noted above, Washington declined O'Hara's sword because according to the custom of the time it would only be proper from Washington to receive the sword from Cornwallis himself; Major Lincoln accepted the sword in Washington's place. Trumbull was proud of the fact that he had painted portraits of the French officers while in France and included a small self-portrait of himself under the American flag on the right side of the painting. [ [http://www.aoc.gov/cc/art/rotunda/surrender_cornwallis.cfm Surrender of Cornwallis] ]

Infobox Painting|



title=General George Washington Resigning his
Commission
artist=John Trumbull
year=1824
type=Oil on canvas
height=30.5
width=45.7
height_feet=12
width_feet=18
city=Washington, D.C.
museum=Capitol rotunda

"General George Washington Resigning his Commission" was commissioned in 1817 and placed in 1824. It depicts George Washington addressing Congress to resign his commission as commander-in-chief of the Continental Army, on December 23, 1783. The Congress at the time was meeting at the Maryland State House in Annapolis. This celebrated incident established a strong tradition of civilian control of the military in the United States and the rejection of military dictatorship in favor of liberal democracy.

Washington is depicted with two aides-de-camp as he addresses the president of the Congress, as well as with Thomas Mifflin, Elbridge Gerry, Thomas Jefferson, James Monroe, and James Madison. Martha Washington and her three grandchildren are shown watching from the gallery, although they were not in fact present at the event. [http://www.aoc.gov/cc/art/rotunda/washington_resigning.cfm Washington's Resignation] ]

Infobox Painting|

painting_alignment=left
title=Landing of Columbus
artist=John Vanderlyn
year=1847
type=Oil on canvas
height=30.5
width=45.7
height_feet=12
width_feet=18
city=Washington, D.C.
museum=Capitol rotunda

"Landing of Columbus" was commissioned in 1836/1837 and placed in 1847. Painted by John Vanderlyn, it depicts Christopher Columbus landing in the West Indies, on San Salvador Island (Guanahani), on October 12, 1492.

Columbus raises the royal banner to claim the land for Spain and he stands bareheaded with his hat at his feet in honor of the sanctity of the event. The captains of the "Niña" and "Pinta" follow, carrying the banner of the Catholic Monarchs, Isabella of Castile and Ferdinand II of Aragon. The crew displays a range of emotions, and some search for gold in the sand. Natives watch from behind a tree. [ [http://www.aoc.gov/cc/art/rotunda/landing_columbus.cfm Landing of Columbus] ]

Infobox Painting|



title=Discovery of the Mississippi
artist=William H. Powell
year=1847
type=Oil on canvas
height=30.5
width=45.7
height_feet=12
width_feet=18
city=Washington, D.C.
museum=Capitol rotunda

Discovery of the Mississippi""' was the last painting to be commissioned by Congress for the rotunda. William H. Powell was given the commission in 1847 and the painting was purchased in 1855. At the center of the canvas, is Spanish navigator and conquistador Hernando de Soto riding a white horse. De Soto is thought to have become the first European to see the Mississippi River in 1541. The painting depicts de Soto and his troops approaching Native Americans in front of tepees, with a chief holding a peace pipe. The foreground is filled by weapons and soldiers to represent the devastating battle at Mauvila (or Mabila), in which de Soto suffered a Pyrrhic victory over Choctaws under Tuscaloosa. To the right, a monk prays as a crucifix is set in the ground. [ [http://www.aoc.gov/cc/art/rotunda/discovery_mississippi.cfm Discovery of the Mississippi] ]

Infobox Painting|



painting_alignment=left
title=Baptism of Pocahontas
artist=John Gadsby Chapman
year=1840
type=Oil on canvas
height=30.5
width=45.7
height_feet=12
width_feet=18
city=Washington, D.C.
museum=Capitol rotunda

"Baptism of Pocahontas" was painted by John Gadsby Chapman, who given a commission in 1837. The painting was placed in 1840. It depicts Pocahontas in white as she is baptized (under the name "Rebecca") by the Anglican priest Alexander Whiteaker in Jamestown, Virginia. This event is believed to have taken place in 1613 or 1614. She kneels surrounded by family members, including her father, Chief Powhatan, and colonists. Her brother Nantequaus turns away from the ceremony. The baptism occurred before her marriage to Englishman John Rolfe who stands behind her. Their union is said to be the first recorded marriage between a European and a Native American. The scene symbolizes the belief of Americans at the time that Native Americans should accept Christianity and other European ways.

Infobox Painting|



title=Embarkation of the Pilgrims
artist=Robert W. Weir
year=1844
type=Oil on canvas
height=30.5
width=45.7
height_feet=12
width_feet=18
city=Washington, D.C.
museum=Capitol rotunda

"Embarkation of the Pilgrims" was commissioned in 1837 and placed in 1844. Painted by Robert W. Weir, it depicts the Pilgrims on the deck of the ship "Speedwell" as they depart Delfshaven in South Holland on July 22, 1620. The Pilgrims traveled aboard the "Speedwell" to Southampton. There they met additional colonists and transferred to the "Mayflower". The painting shows William Brewster, holding the Bible, and pastor John Robinson leading Governor Carver, William Bradford, Miles Standish, and their families in prayer. The rainbow at the left side of the painting symbolizes hope and divine protection. [ [http://www.aoc.gov/cc/art/rotunda/embarkation_pilgrims.cfm Embarkation of the Pilgrims] ]

tatuary Hall Collection

There are five statues in the rotunda which are part of the National Statuary Hall Collection:

*Dwight D. Eisenhower in bronze, from Kansas, by Jim Brothers in 2003.
*James Garfield in marble, from Ohio, by Charles Niehaus in 1886.
*Andrew Jackson in bronze, from Tennessee, by Belle Kinney Sholz and Leopold F. Sholz, in 1928.
*George Washington, in bronze, from Virginia, by Jean Antoine Houdon in 1934.

The four presidents will remain in the rotunda, indefinitely or until an act of Congress.

Memorials

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Martin Luther King, Jr., is to date the only African-American honored with a bust in the United States Capitol. The bust of his head and shoulders is 36 inches high and stands on a pyramidal Belgian black marble base that is 66 inches high. Martin Luther King is depicted in a contemplative and peaceful mood, looking slightly downward. His face is smoothly modeled, in contrast to the textures of his hair and of his jacket and tie. The pedestal was designed by the sculptor to follow the lines of the shoulders of the bust, creating a unified shape and enhancing the monumental effect.

On December 21, 1982, the Congress passed House Concurrent Resolution 153, which directed the procurement of a marble bust "to serve to memorialize [King's] contributions on such matters as the historic legislation of the 1960s affecting civil rights and the right to vote." Senator Charles Mathias, Jr., Chairman of the Joint Committee on the Library, the congressional committee overseeing the procurement, said at the unveiling that "Martin Luther King takes his rightful place among the heroes of this nation."

Because the bust would be such an important and visible work of art, the Joint Committee on the Library decided to have a national competition to select a sculptor. The competition was conducted by the National Endowment for the Arts, using a panel selection process that the Endowment had successfully developed over the previous 20 years. Mrs. Coretta Scott King agreed to serve on the advisory committee and to advise the panel of "the salient qualities of Dr. King’s character and physical expression which the Panel should consider in evaluating the qualifications of the competitors."

In December 1984, the panel selected John Wilson of Boston, Massachusetts; Elizabeth Catlett of New York City and Mexico; and Zenos Frudakis of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, as finalists in the competition. Each sculptor received a $500 grant to create a maquette (i.e., a model) for the panel to review before making its final decision. The Chairman of the Arts Endowment was proud to point out that "this was the first time that Arts Endowment was asked by Congress to prove the expertise of its peer review process, which specifies artistic excellence as its primary criterion to select an artist to create a work of art to be placed in the U.S. Capitol." After reviewing the maquettes at a special meeting on April 15, 1985, the committee selected John Wilson; the artist was awarded a $50,000 commission to cast the model in bronze. The bust was unveiled in the Rotunda on January 16, 1986, the fifty-seventh anniversary of Dr. King’s birth, by Mrs. King, accompanied by their four children and Dr. King’s sister. [ [http://www.aoc.gov/cc/art/mlk_bust.cfm Martin Luther King, Jr] ]

Women's Suffrage Movement

This group portrait monument to the pioneers of the women's suffrage movement in the United States, which led to the passage of the 19th Amendment in 1920, was sculpted by Adelaide Johnson (1859-1955) from an 8-ton block of marble in Carrara, Italy. The monument features portrait busts of the leaders of the women's suffrage movement. The portraits are copies of the individual busts she carved for the Court of Honor of the Woman's Building at the World's Columbian Exposition in 1893. The detailed busts are surrounded by rough-hewn marble at the top of the sculpture. The monument was presented to the Capitol as a gift from the women of the United States by the National Woman's Party and was accepted on behalf of Congress by the Joint Committee on the Library on February 10, 1921. The unveiling ceremony was held in the Rotunda on February 15, 1921, the 101st anniversary of the birth of Susan B. Anthony, and was attended by representatives of over 70 women's organizations. The Committee authorized the installation of the monument in the Crypt, where it remained on continuous display. In accordance with House Concurrent Resolution 216, which was passed by the Congress in September 1996, the sculpture was relocated to the Capitol Rotunda in May 1997. The monument consists of three parts, the 14,000-pound sculpture itself and two rectangular stone base slabs. The black Belgian marble base and the white Carrara marble base were donated by Adelaide Johnson in 1925. However, the black marble base arrived broken and was not replaced by the artist until 1929. In 1930 both pieces were installed, completing the artist's design. The total weight of the monument and its two bases is estimated to be 26,000 pounds. From left to right the figures represent:
Elizabeth Cady Stanton (1815-1902), president of the National Woman Suffrage Association from 1865 to 1893; author of the woman's bill of rights, which she read at the Seneca Falls, New York, convention in 1848; first to demand the vote for women.
Susan B. Anthony (1820-1906), abolitionist, temperance advocate, and later president of the National American Woman Suffrage Association, who joined with Stanton in 1851 to promote woman suffrage; proposed the constitutional amendment passed many years after her death.
Lucretia Mott (1793-1880), Quaker reformer and preacher, who worked for abolition, peace, and equality for women in jobs and education; organizer of the 1848 Seneca Falls, New York, convention, which launched the women's rights movement. [ [http://www.aoc.gov/cc/art/rotunda/suffrage_1.cfm Women's Suffrage] ]

Other Statuary and Artifacts

In addition to the National Statuary Hall Collection and the memorial statuary, there are a number of other pieces in the Rotunda. Next to the south entrance, opposite of the statue of George Washington, is a bronze statue of Thomas Jefferson with the Declaration of Independence. This piece of art, given by Jefferson Levy, is the only work of art in the Capitol given by a private donor instead of a state or commissioned by Congress. At the west entrance, are marble statues of General Ulysses S. Grant and President Abraham Lincoln. The Lincoln statue was a commissioned by Congress and designed by Vinnie Ream. The statue of Grant was a gift to Congress by the Grand Army of the Republic. Located in the southwest portion of the Rotunda is a statue of Alexander Hamilton. Lastly, directly opposite of Hamilton is the Magna Carta Case, a gold case which held the Magna Carta when it was on loan to the United States for the Bicentennial celebration.

Lying in State and Honor

The main difference between lying in state and lying in honor is the designated color guard that keeps watch over the coffin. When lying in state, the military honor guard watches over the coffin; when lying in honor, the US Capitol Police honor guard watches over the coffin.

*Americans lying in state. Among them:
** Senator Henry Clay (1852), the first person to lie in State at the Capitol.
** President Abraham Lincoln (1865)
** Representative Thaddeus Stevens (1868)
** President James Garfield (1881)
** President William McKinley (1901)
** President Warren Harding (1923)
** President and Chief Justice William Howard Taft (1930)
** President John F. Kennedy (1963)
** General Douglas MacArthur (1964)
** President Herbert Hoover (1964)
** President Dwight Eisenhower (1969)
** Senator Everett Dirksen (1969)
** Director of the FBI J. Edgar Hoover (1972)
** President Lyndon Johnson (1973)
** Vice-President Hubert Humphrey (1978)
** President Ronald Reagan (2004)
** President Gerald Ford (2006-2007)

* Americans lying in honor:
** Officers Jacob Chestnut and John Gibson (1998), the two officers killed in the 1998 shooting incident. (Chestnut was the first African American ever to lie in honor in the Capitol.)
** Civil rights icon Rosa Parks: the first woman and second African American to lie in honor in the Capitol (2005).

References


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