By PAMELA SCOTT
George Washington and Thomas Jefferson were determined that the United States Capitol be a meaningful architectural expression of America's new political and social order.
The Constitution, ratified in 1788, had given the country its governing structure; the Capitol, begun three years later, was still incomplete when Congress first met there in November 1800. Construction of the original building took 34 years and was directed by six presidents and six architects. Opinions among statesmen and designers differed as to how to achieve a symbolically potent yet functionally efficient building within a Neoclassical framework. Conceiving of themselves as inheritors, guardians and conveyors of Western civilization, they slowly built a Capitol that drew upon both American and European emblematic and architectural traditions.
The Capitol was found to be too small soon after it was completed in 1826. Several proposals during the 1830s and 1840s to extend it either to the east or with new legislative wings attached to the north and south led to a second competition in 1850- 1851. The Capitol extension dwarfed the original structure, dramatically changing its physical appearance, as Victorian exuberance replaced Neoclassical sedateness.
During both building campaigns, symbolic, aesthetic and pragmatic issues were of paramount concern, as all the participants recognized they were creating America's most important public building. In addition to legislative chambers, committee rooms and offices for the Senate and House of Representatives, the Capitol accommodated the Library of Congress until 1897 and the Supreme Court until 1935.
Symbols for a New Nation
Symbols are history encoded in visual shorthand. Eighteenth century Euro-Americans invented or adopted emblems -- images accompanied by a motto -- and personifications-- allegorical figures -- to express their political needs. They used them as propaganda tools to draw together the country's diverse peoples (who spoke many languages) in order to promote national political union, the best hope of securing liberty and equal justice for all.
Benjamin Franklin was responsible for suggesting the country's first emblem -- a native rattlesnake -- and its first personification -- Hercules. Both were readily understood by his contemporaries: the snake device conveyed the need for political solidarity among the colonies, while the strength of the infant Hercules was likened to the mighty young nation.
Subsequent devices continued to symbolize national union, while personifcations were generally composite figures that fused ideas of Liberty, America, Wisdom or Civil Government. The Capitol's early planners drew upon this small but expressive group of accepted American symbols to convey to the public its actual and metaphorical roles.
Symbols of Union
Benjamin Franklin consulted baroque emblem books to find an appropriate symbol for the union of the colonies. A French one provided the image of a cut snake with the motto that translated as "Join or Die." An Italian iconography book stated that snakes symbolized democracy.
Probably owing to the snake's negative connotations, Franklin and others sought alternative symbols of union. These included a circular chain of 13 links and a Liberty Column supported by hands and arms that represented the states. After the Revolution, national political union was embodied in the Great Seal of the United States. Several groups of 13 elements -- leaves on the olive branch, arrows clutched by the eagle, stars above its head and a shield of stripes on its breast -- referred to war, peace and the American flag, itself the Revolution's principal symbol of union.
Eagles were symbols of power from remotest times. They decorated Roman public buildings and were used by Roman emperors to express supreme authority, a tradition passed down to their modern European successors.
Eagles also represented power to Native Americans, who used them as totems and their feathers for ceremonial purposes. In 1782 Philadelphia lawyer James Barton suggested a heraldic eagle as part of the Great Seal of the United States to represent the "supreme power and authority of Congress." Secretary of Congress Charles Thomson made the eagle the seal's primary image. Soon it was adopted widely to express the new nation. Eagles were used extensively in the Capitol's emblematic sculpture, where they served as guardians of Justice, Liberty and the Constitution.
Using figures from mythology to embody virtues or represent abstract ideas has always been an important part of western art traditions. Sixteenth century Europeans used images of Amerindians, male and female, accompanied by native birds, animals and plants to represent America by explaining the physical nature of the new world. About the time of the Revolution, European figures of Liberty, often identified by a pike topped by a liberty cap, were Americanized through their native dress, generally feather skirts.
Another female personification considered appropriate to symbolize America, the Greek warrior goddess Athena, was the founder of Athens and goddess of wisdom. Her Roman counterpart Minerva had earlier been linked with Britannia because she was associated with civic virtues. Athena-Minerva's identifying attributes were a helmet and breastplate decorated with a gorgon's head. Female personifications proposed for the Capitol often blended features of America, Liberty and Athena-Minerva to create a new composite figure that exemplified multiple civic virtues.
Although Hercules was frequently suggested as an apt figure to express America in the Capitol, he was repeatedly rejected, finally by President John Quincy Adams in 1826. Originally considered a suitable symbol for America because of his physical strength, Hercules exemplified for many Heroic Virtue. He was the ancient hero who battled against tyrants, choosing a life of public service over one of frivolity. Unlike Athena-Minerva whose attributes could be easily combined with those of Liberty or America, Hercules's lion-skin cape and club suggested savagery to the unlearned. Had these implements been assimilated with the weapons of male Amerindians, the resulting figure would in many minds have projected a negative image of the new republic.
"Grand Federal Edifice"
One of the most interesting allegories to emerge from the Revolution was the "Grand Federal Edifice," an architectural metaphor to represent the Constitution. It was literally a "Temple of Liberty" slowly being constructed in the pages of newspapers as states gradually ratified the Constitution during 1787 and 1788.
A circular tempietto -- a small, circular temple -- designed by Charles Willson Peale was built for Philadelphia's grand celebratory parade held on July 4, 1788. Its 13 columns, motto "In union the fabric stands firm" and crowning figure of Plenty provided an actual as well as metaphorical structure to express the nation's most important political goals.
Although the direct antecedent of the Capitol's domed rotunda was the Roman Pantheon, the stage had been set for a central circular room by Philadelphia's and other early American temples, dedicated to the modern world's new religion, liberty.
"The Most Approved Plan"
Thomas Jefferson decided that the Capitol's design should be chosen by a public competition. Advertisements began appearing in American newspapers in March 1792. The entries were disappointing to the judges-- Washington, Jefferson and the commissioners of the District of Columbia. Most of the entries survive to this day; they are a revealing reflection of the talent available among America's amateurs, builder- architects and professionals.
The published guidelines stipulated matters of fact -- size and number of rooms and materials -- not issues of taste, such as style of architecture, historical association or symbolic meaning. Thus the competitors themselves proposed ideas of how to convey America's new political structure and social order. Their suggestions, ranging from simple to complex, economical to expensive, reflected commonly held beliefs about America's governing population -- primarily farmers and merchants -- or promoted benefits promised by the Constitution.
Most competitors drew upon Renaissance architectural models, either filtered through the lens of 18th century English and American Georgian traditions or based directly on buildings illustrated in Renaissance treatises. The Capitol's competition coincided with nascent neoclassicism in America, in which forms and details from Greek and Roman architecture were revived.
Three of the competition entries were inspired by ancient classical buildings. The Roman Pantheon -- the circular domed rotunda dedicated to all pagan gods -- was suggested by Jefferson, who later sheparded it through several transformations.
The open competition was a failure, as no design submitted was considered suitable. The commissioners then hired Stephen Hallet (1755-1825), a recent French emigr‚ and the only professional architect who competed, to make additional proposals. Hallet's sophisticated drawings were derived from French architectural traditions, but he responded directly to American themes in his proposed symbolic sculpture. He used classical allegories already accepted as relevant to America to convey Revolutionary-era ideals, the structure of the federal government and the history of the discovery, exploration and settlement of the new world.
In January 1793 physician and amateur architect William Thornton (1759-1828) entered the competitive process for the first time. The design he sent directly to Washington immediately captivated the judges who awarded it the first prize. Hallet responded with a final design similar in general outline to Thornton's. A conference held in Philadelphia on July 15, 1793, resulted in a compromise: Thornton's exterior was to be married to Hallet's interiors.
The East and West Porticoes and Dome
In 1791 Pierre Charles L'Enfant had located his "Congress House" atop Jenkins Hill, "which stand as a pedestal waiting for a monument." He proposed for it a domed rotunda facing west. Subsequent architects designed domes to identify the Capitol on the city's skyline. Impressive central porticoes facing east and west transcended entry points. Rather they drew visitors to the rotunda, perceived from the beginning as a great public meeting place, first a monument to Washington, but soon a "Hall of the People," a usage probably proposed by Jefferson.
The entire ensemble of dome, rotunda, and porticoes occupied fully one-third of the original Capitol's mass. These symbolic areas were balanced by actual functional spaces -- the chambers, committee rooms and offices in the wings. The general outline of the Capitol's compact and coherent exterior was established in 1793. Minor changes were confined to the central section, not constructed until 1818-1826.
Winning the Capitol competition in 1793 began William Thornton's (1759-1828) long and distinguished Washington career. Jefferson judged Thornton's Capitol design with its central Pantheon-type dome to be "simple, noble [and] beautiful." As the physician and amateur architect was not capable of overseeing its construction, Stephen Hallet was named superintending architect.
In 1794 Washington appointed Thornton one of three commissioners of the District of Columbia, a position that gave him considerable authority to monitor the Capitol's early development. While Superintendent of the Patent Office (1802-1828) Thornton continued to be consulted by the Capitol's superintending architects. In 1804 he provided architect Benjamin Henry Latrobe with a new plan for the main floor and as late as 1826 served on the jury to choose a design for the east pediment sculpture.
When English- trained architect George Hadfield (1763-1826) was appointed superintendant of the Capitol's construction on Oct. 15, 1795, he brought to the job superb academic credentials, widely praised talent, but little practical experience. The loss of Hadfield's personal and professional papers greatly restricts knowledge of his career. Later architects incorporated some of his suggested changes to the Capitol's design -- an octagonal base for the dome and a staircase entry on the east front -- but little is known of the three years he spent building the Senate wing's interiors.
During the 1790s James Hoban (c. 1762-1821) successfully carried out his winning design for the President's House and supervised Stephen Hallet's and George Hadfield's work at the Capitol. In 1801 newly elected President Jefferson chose Hoban's scheme to erect the hall for the House of Representatives as a free- standing oval room to be attached to the south wing's exterior walls at a later date. Faulty construction of his brick arcade, wood gallery and timber-framed roof led to the room's dismantling in the spring of 1804.
Benjamin Henry Latrobe
The collaboration between Jefferson and Benjamin Henry Latrobe (1764-1820), between informed amateur and consummate professional, resulted in the Capitol's most beautiful spaces as well as its most meaningful elements. Latrobe's talent and education placed him at the forefront of European-trained architects working in America during the Capitol's formative years.
He was appointed by Jefferson in 1803 and worked intermittedly until the War of 1812 brought the Capitol's construction to a halt.
On Aug. 24, 1814, British troops burned the Capitol. President James Madison reappointed Latrobe in 1815, but he resigned two years later because he was unable to cope with new bureaucratic strictures.
Latrobe's redesign of Thornton's "center building" -- the dome, rotunda, porticoes and, in 1815, a projecting west wing -- visually diminished the impact of the legislative wings. In 1806 Latrobe and Jefferson designed a new east front to have a compelling colonnade- portico-staircase combination that drew visitors into the rotunda.
By 1808-1809 Latrobe began thinking of refinements, considering novel ways to light the rotunda, designing an exterior sculptural frieze to decorate the dome's octagonal base and planning a separate stately temple entrance on the Capitol's east front. When Latrobe resigned in 1817, he had rebuilt the interiors of both wings twice and was about to build the center building.
Charles Bulfinch (1763-1844) completed the Capitol in 1826, eight years after taking over its superintendence from Latrobe. The major changes he made to Latrobe's west wing exterior were the insertion of a subbasement and an unusual arrangement of double and single columns for its portico.
The high profile of Bulfinch's wood outer dome was suggested by James Madison and John Quincy Adams to ensure that the Capitol be easily identified from anywhere in the city. Although this dome had a short life (25 years), it was often recorded by early photographers and printmakers. Bulfinch left his most lasting stamp on the Capitol's rotunda, changing its symbolic direction from a monument to a history museum in which America's discovery and settlement by many peoples were recounted. Bulfinch's last work at the Capitol was to landscape its grounds, enclosing them with an iron fence and erecting gatehouses as an entrance from the west.
The House and Senate Wings
Inadequate funding and material and manpower shortages dictated the Capitol's phased construction. The north, or Senate, wing was begun first because its numerous rooms could house the entire Congress until the south wing was built. In fact, the House of Representatives, Senate, Supreme Court and Library of Congress all moved into the north wing when the federal government settled permanently in Washington in 1800.
Contrary to the rules established by Renaissance architectural theorists, Jefferson suggested locating both the House and Senate chambers at ground level rather than on the second floor. Both were to be double-story rooms with visitors galleries that overlooked legislative preceedings below. However, on the exterior the main story seemed to be the second story. Apparently, Jefferson wished to emphasize the easy accessibility of America's political system and at the same time the supremacy of the people. Both the first Senate chamber designed by Stephen Hallet and the first hall for the House of Representatives designed by James Hoban were built following Jefferson's suggestion; both were replaced because of faulty construction.
Before the War of 1812, Latrobe redesigned and rebuilt most of the north wing interiors, placing a new semicircular Supreme Court on the ground floor and a new Senate directly above it. Both rooms were vaulted in brick for permanence and grandeur. Only the Supreme Court survived the fire of Aug. 24, 1814, nearly intact.
Latrobe demonstrated his genius as an architect in his design for the courtroom and two adjacent vestibules. He achieved the impression of expansiveness in relatively small areas by creating layers of space and varying ceiling shapes and heights. The vestibules contained Latrobe's most memorable symbols, corn cob and tobacco leaf and flower capitals for his newly invented American orders (columns with their capitals and entablatures).
The present old Senate is the fourth room expressly designed to accommodate the Senate within the walls of the Capitol, including a temporary one while the second room was under construction. Latrobe designed suitable architectural and emblematic sculpture for his two permanent Senate chambers. He decorated his temporary room in 1808 with a frieze of wreaths enclosing the state seals and fasces (a symbol of union) topped by liberty caps.
For his first permanent room, begun in 1808, he combined Greek Ionic columns, a new magnolia flower order, and 13 caryatids (columns in the form of women in classical clothing) carrying shields with the state seals, because the Senate was the "assembly of the states." For his enlarged Senate built after the fire (the present room), Latrobe retained the Ionic order and the caryatids. Plaster models of the latter were destroyed during the 1830s.
Library of Congress
During the first five years of Latrobe's tenure he established that the Capitol was to be a living catalog of Western European architectural traditions, including American contributions. The most exotic was his Egyptian Revival Library of Congress. Latrobe's curiosity about ancient Egyptian architecture was probably both stimulated and satisfied by illustrated accounts of Napoleon's Egyptian campaigns of 1798-1799. Had his Library been finished, Latrobe's north wing would have housed Greek Doric (Supreme Court) and Ionic (Senate) columns, caryatids, three American orders and the exotic lotus and papyrus columns of the Library. According to ancient and Renaissance architectural theory, columns represented peoples; perhaps Latrobe intended his variety of columns as a symbolic statement about America's diverse population.
When Latrobe added a west wing to the Capitol in 1815 his new Library of Congress spanned its entire facade, with doors opening onto the west portico that overlooked the Mall. Although Latrobe again planned Egyptian decoration, the Library actually constructed by Charles Bulfinch between 1818 and 1823 had Greek Revival details, its simple and stately columns based on those of the Tower of the Winds. Bulfinch's library was destroyed by fire in 1851.
House of Representatives
Because of its large size, designing and constructing a hall for the House of Representatives proved to be the most difficult of the Capitol's many architectural problems. The weight of the temporary timber-framed roof covering James Hoban's oval House chamber (1801- 1804) contributed to its failure. When Latrobe designed a new House chamber in 1804 to occupy the same space, he changed its shape slightly to a hippodrome. This rectangle with two semicircular ends allowed him to devise a roof with skylights, a feature that Jefferson suggested.
The president, who had admired the skylit dome of the wheat market in Paris, insisted that such a ceiling would make the House chamber the "handsomest room in the world, without a single exception." The total destruction of Latrobe's first hall in the 1814 fire allowed him to design the third House chamber as a semicircular auditorium modeled on ancient theaters.
Latrobe reserved the most elaborate decoration for his House chambers because he considered it the body most representative of the people. He chose Corinthian capitals based on the Greek Choragic Monument to Lysicrates, an oft-copied monument in Athens, for the colonnades of both rooms. The first was built of soft brown Aquia sandstone, including a statue of Liberty above the Speaker's chair and four allegorical figures of Agriculture, Art, Science and Commerce carved in relief in the entablature.
For today's Statuary Hall, Latrobe had the Corinthian capitals carved in Italy of white Carrera marble. They capped column shafts of mottled gray breccia quarried in Virginia, both cool accents in a room with brown sandstone walls. Latrobe acknowledged he used this varied coloristic effect to vie with ancient Roman buildings, one of several statements he made comparing his work at the Capitol favorably with great world monuments.
The Rotunda and Dome
During the rotunda's slow evolution, each of the Capitol's architects proposed different solutions for its use, meaning and architectural character. William Thornton originally conceived of the crypt and rotunda together as a pilgrimage place, Washington's burial place and his monument. He proposed placing a white marble equestrian statue in the center of the rotunda and a cenotaph, or empty tomb, directly beneath it.
In 1806 Benjamin Henry Latrobe intended to expand the rotunda's iconography by including 24 niches in the rotunda wall to shelter statues of Revolutionary-era heroes. Four massive semicircular staircases would lead from the rotunda to the crypt and Washington's tomb. In 1817 Congress commissioned from John Trumbull four history paintings of Washington's two most famous military victories and two great civic events, signing the Declaration of Independence and Washington resigning his commission as commander of the Continental Army.
In the 1820s Charles Bulfinch continued to change the rotunda's symbolic direction from mausoleum and monument to history museum. He commissioned eight sculpted panels whose common theme was the discovery and settlement of North America. Narrative panels above the doors depicted pre-Revolutionary events beginning with Columbus's discovery of America. Portraits of great explorers -- Christopher Columbus, John Cabot, Ren‚ LaSalle and Sir Walter Raleigh--decorated the walls above the paintings. Four additional history paintings, installed between 1840 and 1855, continued the theme of the European exploration and peopling of America. They in fact justified its rightness, subtly making official the concept of "Manifest Destiny," the inevitable and desirable displacement of Native Americans as European civilization moved westward across the continent.
The most important of the Capitol's visual chroniclers was New York architect Alexander Jackson Davis (1803-1892). His pencil sketches, watercolors and measured drawings done between 1832 and 1834 are the most comprehensive record of the Capitol as it was completed in 1826. Soon alterations and additions began changing the building's architectural and symbolic character.
Davis and his partner, Ithiel Town, planned on publishing a portfolio of lithographs or engravings (some of both were done), that recorded in detail the Capitol's interiors. They were competing with a burgeoning industry of printmakers whose exterior views of the Capitol were very popular. Two of Davis's meticulous plans of the Capitol were engraved, the most intricate a reflected ceiling plan of the main story. A few copies of his engraved view of the House chamber survive but probably were never officially published or distributed during Davis's lifetime.
The Capitol Extended
By the close of the Civil War in 1865 the Capitol had been transformed from a sedate and self-contained building on a rather small scale to an exuberant and complex one of much greater size. Its breadth extended 751 feet across the brow of Capitol Hill and the feather-crested helmet of its crowning statue, "Freedom Triumphant in War and Peace," rose 287 feet, 5 1/2 inches above ground level.
Philadelphia architect Thomas U. Walter had won the competition in 1851 for the Capitol's extension. He and others presented designs based on three scenarios: making a square Capitol by building an addition on the east, placing new wings directly against the north and south walls or attaching lateral wings to the old building via corridors. The latter, sanctioned by the Senate Committee on Public Buildings, maintained much of the original Capitol's integrity.
The new rectangular chambers were placed in the center of each wing at the suggestion of Capt. Montgomery C. Meigs (1816-1892) of the Army Corps of Engineers. In 1853 Meigs was put in charge of operations. Until 1859 he chose the painters and sculptors who decorated the Capitol extension, suggesting themes to them that expressed Euro- American dominance of the continent.
Italian-born fresco painter Constantino Brumidi (1805-1880) spent 25 years decorating walls and ceilings of commmittee rooms, offices and corridors, as well as the rotunda's frieze and canopy painting. His subjects ranged from a visual dictionary of American flora and fauna to American history primarily told through classical allegories.
The Capitol's cast-iron dome is one of the 19th century's greatest engineering feats, 4,500 tons of iron cantilevered outward 14 feet from the original stone drum. Based ultimately on the dome of St. Peter's in Rome, but immediately on that of St. Isaac's in St. Petersburg, it rises through five successive stages to its crowning cupola and Thomas Crawford's statue of "Freedom Triumphant in War and Peace."
Sen. Jefferson Davis argued that the liberty cap on Crawford's original figure was inappropriate to represent free-born Americans, as in ancient Rome it had been worn by freed slaves. Crawford changed Freedom's headgear to a helmet decorated with stars and an eagle head sprouting feathers "suggested by the costume of our Indian tribes."
Brumidi's canopy painting suspended between the dome's inner and outer shells, "The Apotheosis of George Washington" (1864-1865), continued most of the themes suggested for the Capitol in the 1790s. Washington was elevated to the status of a god amid a cast of allegorical and historical figures that represented American commercial, agricultural and technological achievements. These include scenes of the laying of the transatlantic cable and Liberty handing Ceres, the goddess of agriculture, the reins of a team of horses pulling a reaping machine.
Capt. Meigs began planning pedimental sculpture for the new wings in 1853, asserting that the Capitol of a "Republic so much richer than the Athenian should ... rival the Parthenon." He proposed "the struggle between civilized man and the savage, between the cultivated and the wild nature" as a theme to two eminent American sculptors living in Rome, Thomas Crawford and Hiram Powers.
Crawford responded with a design for the Senate wing's east pediment, "The Progress of Civilization," in which Native Americans were "exterminated" (Crawford's word) by a woodsman, soldier, schoolmaster, merchant, and industrial worker.
Ways of expressing American life had changed considerably by 1908, when Paul Bartlett began designing sculpture for the south wing's pediment. As befitting its location, the sculptor and a joint congressional committee determined that the subject of the House pediment should be the present "life and labors of the people."
In the "Apotheosis of Democracy," Bartlett planned two figural groups to represent the "labors of agriculture" and the "labors of industry." Although the central group, "Peace Protecting Genius," were still treated as abstract classical allegories, Bartlett's main figures were heroic American farmers and foundry men wearing their everyday work clothes.
Political and Cultural Influence
The Capitol was an immediate popular success. Descriptions in travel accounts beginning in the 1810s often presented it as an accomplished fact, as did the earliest lithographs and engravings. As soon as Bulfinch's dome was raised, numerous engravings and color lithographs were printed of both facades, but the view from the west was most popular. Distant views of Capitol Hill seen from Pennsylvania Avenue or various elevated sites around the city were more popular in the 1830s and '40s, as they showed the newly planted trees that covered the grounds and provided a dark base upon which the white building seemed to float. Objects as diverse as Staffordshire pottery, jacquard coverlets, bandboxes, embroidered pictures and candelabra used these prints to create memorabilia. Even sheet music covers for patriotic marches reproduced the early printed views of the Capitol.
The Capitol as Anti-Symbol
Success of the propaganda to represent the Capitol as America's "Temple of Freedom" can also be measured by its popularity as an anti-freedom symbol in abolitionist literature. As early as 1817, Dr. Jesse Torrey published an allegorical print of the Capitol as the frontispiece in A Portraiture of Domestic Slavery in the United States. A group of slaves and their master view the recently burned Capitol, which the text presents as a divine judgment against America because the country sanctioned slavery. The Capitol was portrayed in the background of many abolitionist tracts, as a backdrop for dehumanizing scenes and as an ironic commentary on the dichotomy between the rhetoric and the reality of American liberty, freedom and justice.
Influence of the Capitol
Many of America's state capitols built after 1830 were modeled on the national Capitol. A.J. Davis, architect of many state capitols in the 1830s and '40s, brought a great deal of expertise to their design because of his thorough knowledge of the Washington Capitol gained between 1832 and 1834, when he did measured drawings of it.
Unlike other architects who were content with flanking a central dome with legislative chambers, Davis copied many of the Capitol's room shapes and decorative details. Latrobe's American orders so impressed him that he used them on many public and private building designs, including one of his submissions in the Richmond Washington Monument competition in 1849.
Capitol Extension and Advertising
Most prints of the Capitol done before 1850 concentrated on the building and its grounds, while those of the Capitol extension centered it in a panorama of the burgeoning city of Washington. Many late 19th century commemorative objects showing the Capitol were made for tourists and often included views of several buildings and monuments. These prints and memorabilia had a limited audience, but advertisements using the Capitol as a backdrop reached the masses. The message they intended to convey was not only the national availability of manufactured and packaged goods but the cachet of quality and dependability.
Writing to Benjamin Franklin in 1782, patriot Robert Morris remarked that "in a Government like ours the Belief creates the Thing."
Certainly the belief of what the Capitol could convey about that government sustained the many statesmen and architects who created it. Conceived in the spirit of ancient republics, slowly built to embody the political and social values of the Constitution and nurtured by the continuous unfolding of national events, the Capitol's art and architecture presents the broad sweep of American aspirations and history.
Today the Capitol is a distillation of 200 years of what Henry James, writing in The American Scene in 1907, called the "whole American spectacle." Even before it was finished, numerous prints began to make the Capitol a familiar icon, as architecturally vital and ambitious as the institutions it housed.
"Temple of Liberty: Building the Capitol for a New Nation" is on view through June 24 in Madison Gallery, Monday through Friday, 8:30 a.m. - 9:30 p.m. and Saturday 8:30 a.m. - 6 p.m.
Martha E. Hopkins of the Interpretive Programs Office, which mounted the exhibition, is coordinator of the exhibition. It is made possible by grants from the Library's James Madison Council and the Philip Morris Companies Inc.
Pamela Scott is the Guest Curator for "Temple of Liberty." This article was excerpted from the exhibition catalog.