After a yummy breakfast made by Aunt Lili 🙂
Puffles and Honey went out to visit the main attractions at the eastern end of the National Mall – the Capitol Building, Supreme Court and Library of Congress.
The United States Capitol, often called the Capitol Building or Capitol Hill, is the seat of the United States Congress, the legislative branch of the US federal government. It sits atop Capitol Hill, at the eastern end of the National Mall. Though not at the geographic center of the Federal District, the Capitol forms the origin point for the District’s street-numbering system and the District’s four quadrants.
The Capitol Building houses the meeting chambers of the Senate (in the north wing) and the House of Representatives (in the south wing) – the two bodies that compose the legislative branch of the American government. It also includes the offices of congressional leadership, and it is used for ceremonies of national importance such as presidential inaugurations and the lying in state of eminent persons. The U.S. Capitol is also a museum of American art and history.
The original building was completed in 1800 and was subsequently expanded, particularly with the addition of the massive dome. The Capitol is built in a distinctive neoclassical style and has a white exterior. Both its east and west elevations are formally referred to as fronts, though only the east front was intended for the reception of visitors and dignitaries.
L’Enfant chose Jenkins Hill as the site for the Capitol building, with a grand boulevard connecting it with the President’s House, and a public space stretching westward to the Potomac River. In reviewing L’Enfant’s plan, Thomas Jefferson insisted the legislative building be called the “Capitol” rather than “Congress House”. The word “Capitol” comes from Latin and is associated with the Roman temple to Jupiter Optimus Maximus on Capitoline Hill. The new Rome was taking shape!
On September 18, 1793, first President George Washington, along with eight other Freemasons dressed in masonic regalia, laid the cornerstone of the Capitol, which was made by silversmith Caleb Bentley.
As well as creating an architectural legacy, America’s founding fathers wanted a pictorial tribute to the birth of their nation to be installed inside the grandest of their new government buildings, the Capitol. They turned to an artist called John Trumbull, quite possibly the single most boring painter in the entire history of American art, who struggled to rise to this challenge. The result is the familiar language of portraiture, applied rather uneasily and stiffly to grand historical narrative.
The paintings on the west side of the Rotunda represent four events at the centre of the American war of independence and turned by Trumbull into nothing more than a sequence of stultifyingly boring group of portraits. The Declaration of Independence and General George Washington Resigning His Commission are depicted with all the panache and excitement and of a school photograph, long before there were school photographs!
Trumbull was profoundly incapable of depicting action, so when he painted war, he didn’t paint the battle, he painted the surrender. The Surrender of Lord Cornwallis is depicted as an encounter of two rows of tin soldiers, but one of the tin soldiers is Trumbull himself! He painted a self-portrait into the scene. The Surrender of General Burgoyne at the Battle of Saratoga is depicted as an encounter between two groups of utterly bored generals and their hangers-on.
The sense of ineptability was carried on by other artists who worked in the Rotunda, most notably Constantino Brumidi. He is responsible for the truly absurd baroque flourish of a fresco depicting The Apotheosis of Washington beneath the top of the dome. It is a true deep pan pizza of a picture, but then Brumidi was Italian. Washington is depicted surrounded by 13 maidens in an inner ring with many Greek and Roman gods and goddesses below him in a second ring. It is unlikely the painting would have pleased Washington.
Brumidi is also responsible for the Frieze of American History. The frieze is located around the inside of the base of the dome and is a chronological, pictorial history of the United States from the landing of Christopher Columbus to the Wright Brothers’s flight in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. The frieze was started in 1878 and was not completed until 1953. The frieze was therefore painted by different artists: Brumidi, Filippo Costaggini, Charles Ayer Whipple and Allyn Cox.
Brumidi’s work can also be seen in the hallways of the first floor of the Senate side of the Capitol. The murals, known as the Brumidi Corridors, reflect great moments and people in United States history. Among the original works are those depicting Benjamin Franklin, John Fitch, Robert Fulton, and events such as the Cession of Louisiana. Also decorating the walls are animals, insects and natural flora indigenous to the United States. Brumidi’s design left many spaces open so that future events in United States history could be added. Among those added are the Spirit of St. Louis, the Moon landing, and the Space Shuttle Challenger crew.
Back in the Rotunda, the school photographs on the east side are of The Baptism of Pocahontas by John Gadsby Chapman, The Embarkation of the Pilgrims by Robert Walter Weir, The Discovery of the Mississippi by William Henry Powell, and The Landing of Columbus by John Vanderlyn.
The Capitol houses the National Statuary Hall Collection, now consisting of 100 statues, two from each state. By an Act of Congress in July 1864, each state was invited to present two statues of citizens worthy of national recognition. Nine states have chosen to honor a woman with one of their statue selections.
Washington State honoured Mother Joseph, a humanitarian recognized as one of the first architects in the Northwest, responsible for the completion of 11 hospitals, seven academies, five Indian schools, and two orphanages throughout an area that today encompasses Washington, northern Oregon, Idaho and Montana.
North Dekota honouted Sakakawea as a traveler and guide, a translator, a diplomat, and a wife and mother whose indomitable spirit was a decided factor in the success of Lewis and Clark’s expedition, the first American expedition to cross the western portion of the US. William Clark expressed the same sentiment in a letter to Sakakawea’s husband almost two centuries ago: “your woman who accompanied you that long dangerous and fatiguing rout to the Pacific Ocean and back deserved a greater reward for her attention and services on that rout than we had in our power to give her.”
Esther Hobart Morris was a woman’s suffragist, a judge who never had a decision reversed in a higher court, and the first woman justice of the peace. She was honoured by Wyoming.
Colorado honoured Dr. Florence Rena Sabin for her work as a distinguished teacher, scientist, humanitarian and writer. One of the first female professors in the United States, Maria L. Sanford was a celebrated orator and educator and honoured by Minnesota.
Nevada honoured Sarah Winnemucca, a member of the Paiute tribe born in what would later become the state of Nevada. She served as an interpreter and negotiator between her people and the US Army. As a spokesperson for her people, she gave over 300 speeches to win support for them. Her 1883 autobiography, Life among the Piutes: Their Wrongs and Claims, was the first book written by a Native American woman.
Helen Keller, honoured by Alabama, was an American author, political activist and lecturer. When she was 19 months old, an illness (possibly scarlet fever or meningitis), left her deaf, blind and unable to speak. She was the first deaf-blind person to earn a bachelor of arts degree. The story of how Keller’s teacher, Anne Sullivan, broke through the isolation imposed by a near complete lack of language, allowing the girl to blossom as she learned to communicate, has become widely known through the dramatic depictions of the play and film The Miracle Worker. The statue by Edward Hlavka depicts a moment made famous in the biographical play and movie The Miracle Worker. It shows Keller as a seven-year-old girl wearing a pinafore over her dress.
Illinois honoured Frances E. Willard, an educator influential in social and economic reform, and the founder and president of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union.
The most recent statue is of Congresswoman Jeanette Rankin from Montana, located in the Hall of Columns. Ms. Rankin was the first woman elected to the House of Representatives in 1917, two years before women gained the right to vote. Though well known for her votes against entering into WWI and WWII, more importantly, Rankin was a pioneer for the women’s movement.
The Hall of Columns is located on the House side of the Capitol, home to twenty-eight fluted columns and statues from the National Statuary Hall Collection.
On the ground floor of the Capitol is an area known as the Crypt. It was intended to be the burial place of George Washington, with a ringed balustrade at the center of the Rotunda above looking down to his tomb. However, under the stipulations of his last will, Washington was buried at Mount Vernon. The Crypt now houses exhibits on the history of the Capitol. The star in the center of the floor denotes the point from which the streets in Washington are laid out and numbered. Located in the Crypt are 13 statues from the National Statuary Hall Collection, representing the 13 original colonies, and the Magna Carta replica and display.
From the Capitol Building, a boring underground passage takes visitors to the Library of Congress. The view at the end of the passage is anything but boring! The elaborate entrance pavilion and Great Hall gradually lead to the central reading room where, properly prepared (and authorised for entry!), the user can take full advantage of the Library’s vast resources of knowledge and information.
The two great staircases flanking the Great Hall are embellished by elaborate and varied sculptural work by Philip Martiny. At the base of each is a bronze female figure wearing classic drapery and holding a torch of knowledge. Each stair railing is decorated with a fanciful series of cherubs carved by Martiny in white marble. In a niche on the north side is a plaster bust of Thomas Jefferson and on the south is a bronze bust of George Washington; both are copied from works by the sculptor Jean-Antoine Houdon. The balustrade on each side of the top landing contains Martiny’s figures of cherubs modeled to represent the fine arts. At the north landing, they are Painting, Architecture, and Sculpture; at the south landing, Comedy, Poetry, and Tragedy.
The elaborately decorated interior continues through the four corridors decorated with different themes representing science, literature, philosophy, mythology. The East Corridor, with its vaulted mosaic ceilings honours American scientists and artists and showcases six murals depicting the Evolution of the Book – from oral to written and printed word.
The six murals collectively referred to as The Evolution of the Book surround the Giant Bible of Mainz and the Gutenberg Bibles on view in the East Corridor on the first floor of the Thomas Jefferson Building.
The Giant Bible of Mainz is one of the last great handwritten giant Bibles in Europe. It represents the culmination of hundreds of years of transmission of text through the handwritten manuscript. The most distinguishing characteristic of the Giant Bible are the illuminations that embellish the text. The two volumes are decorated with patterned initial letters, historiated initials (large letters that contain an identifiable scene or figures), and gilt-burnished initials. Finely crafted decorative borders are found on five pages of the first volume. These borders are adorned with a branch, vine, and floral pattern that acts as a framework supporting artistic renderings of rabbits, hunters, stags, princesses, bears, and the like, all exquisitely designed and painted in bright primary colors. These border designs are the chief evidence that link the Giant Bible to the city of Mainz and are continuously being studied by experts on medieval illuminated manuscripts.
The Gutenberg Bible is the first great book printed in Western Europe from movable metal type. It marks a turning point in the art of bookmaking and in the transition from the Middle Ages to the modern world. Gutenberg’s invention of the mechanical printing press made it possible for the accumulated knowledge of the human race to become the common property of every person who knew how to read.
The printing of the Bible was probably completed late in 1455 at Mainz, Germany. Johann Gutenberg, who lived from about 1400 to about 1468, is generally credited for inventing the process of making uniform and interchangeable metal types and for solving the many problems of finding the right materials and methods for printing. This Bible, with its noble Gothic type richly impressed on the page, is recognized as a masterpiece of fine printing and craftsmanship and is all the more remarkable because it was undoubtedly one of the very first books to emerge from the press.
Family and Education are major themes in the North Corridor, which is located behind the north staircase in the Great Hall.
Lyric Poetry is the decoration theme in the South Corridor behind the south staircase in the Great Hall.
The names of ten great authors can be seen on tablets above the Great Hall’s semicircular latticed windows in the vaulted cove of the ceiling. Beginning on the east and proceeding clockwise, the names are DANTE, HOMER, MILTON, BACON, ARISTOTLE, GOETHE, SHAKESPEARE, MOLIERE, MOSES, and HERODOTUS. The names of eight more authors are inscribed in gilt letters on tablets beneath the second-story cartouches on the east and west sides of the hall. Beginning on the east and reading left to right, the authors are CERVANTES, HUGO, SCOTT, COOPER, LONGFELLOW, TENNYSON, GIBBON, and BANCROFT.
The second floor is a great place to take in the view of the Great Hall.
On the second floor in the Southwest Pavilion, is the Thomas Jefferson Library. Divided into categories of Memory, Reason, and Imagination — which Jefferson translated to History, Philosophy, and Fine Arts — and further divided into forty-four “chapters”, the collection placed within Jefferson’s fingertips the span of his multifaceted interests. The books from Jefferson’s library are part of the Rare Book and Special Collections Division of the Library of Congress.
The Library of Congress was established by an act of Congress in 1800 when President John Adams signed a bill providing for the transfer of the seat of government from Philadelphia to the new capital city of Washington. The legislation described a reference library for Congress only, containing “such books as may be necessary for the use of Congress – and for putting up a suitable apartment for containing them therein…”
The original library was housed in the new Capitol until August 1814, when invading British troops set fire to the Capitol Building, burning and pillaging the contents of the small library. Within a month, retired President Thomas Jefferson offered his personal library as a replacement. Jefferson had spent 50 years accumulating books, and his library was considered to be one of the finest in the United States. In offering his collection to Congress, Jefferson anticipated controversy over the nature of his collection, which included books in foreign languages and volumes of philosophy, science, literature, and other topics not normally viewed as part of a legislative library. He wrote, “I do not know that it contains any branch of science which Congress would wish to exclude from their collection; there is, in fact, no subject to which a Member of Congress may not have occasion to refer.”
Ainsworth Rand Spofford, Librarian of Congress from 1864 to 1897, applied Jefferson’s philosophy on a grand scale and built the Library into a national institution. Spofford was responsible for the copyright law of 1870, which required all copyright applicants to send to the Library two copies of their work. This resulted in a flood of books, pamphlets, maps, music, prints, and photographs. Facing a shortage of shelf space at the Capitol, Spofford convinced Congress of the need for a new building, and in 1873 Congress authorized a competition to design plans for the new Library.
The Library of Congress building opened its doors to the public on November 1, 1897, and it was hailed as a glorious national monument and “the largest, the costliest, and the safest” library building in the world. Its elaborately decorated facade and interior, for which more than forty American painters and sculptors produced commissioned works of art, were designed to show how the United States could surpass European libraries in grandeur and devotion to classical culture and to inspire optimism about America’s future. A contemporary guidebook boasted: “America is justly proud of this gorgeous and palatial monument to its National sympathy and appreciation of Literature, Science, and Art. It has been designed and executed solely by American art and American labor (and is) a fitting tribute for the great thoughts of generations past, present, and to be.” This new national Temple of the Arts immediately met with overwhelming approval from the American public.
The Library of Congress (or Main) Building was named the Thomas Jefferson Building in June 1980. The Library of Congress includes two more buildings, the John Adams Building (named for the former President of the United States who in 1800 approved the law establishing the Library of Congress) and the James Madison Memorial Building (named for the former President of the United States who originally suggested in 1783 that the Continental Congress form a library containing a list of books that would be useful to legislators).
Today’s Library of Congress collection, housed in the three buildings, consists of more than 158 million items includes more than 36 million cataloged books and other print materials in 460 languages; more than 69 million manuscripts; the largest rare book collection in North America; and the world’s largest collection of legal materials, films, maps, sheet music and sound recordings.
The Supreme Court Building is the home of the US third branch of government. The Supreme Court consists of the Chief Justice of the United States and eight Associate Justices, a number fixed by Congress. Power to nominate the Justices is vested in the President of the United States, and appointments are made with the advice and consent of the Senate.
The Supreme Court Building, constructed between 1932 – 1935, was designed by noted architect Cass Gilbert, who is best known as the architect for the Woolworth Building in New York. Gilbert drew upon the classical Roman temple form as the basis for the Court’s new building. Reached by a great flight of broad steps, the portico of 16 tall Corinthian columns gives the building a monumental entrance. Lower wings in the Ionic order flank the central temple, and help relate it to the lower-scaled buildings of the nearby Capitol Hill neighborhood. Capping the entrance is the pediment filled with a sculpture group by Robert Aitken, representing Liberty Enthroned Guarded by Order and Authority.
The bronze doors, centered behind the massive Corinthian columns of the front portico, signify the importance of the proceedings that occur within the Courtroom. The oversized doors measure 5m high and 3m wide, and weigh approximately 13 tonnes. The doors were designed by Gilbert and John Donnelly, Sr. and sculpted by his son, John Donnelly, Jr. Each door is made up of four bas-reliefs which represent significant events in the evolution of justice according to Western tradition in chronological order. The thematic sequence begins on the lower left panel, moves up to the top of the door then continues on the bottom right panel and concludes on the upper right corner.
The Supreme Court does not offer guided tours, and visitors tour the public portions of the building on their own. This includes the exhibits on the ground floor as well as the Great Hall on the first floor.
The Courtroom is located on the first floor, reached via a marble staircase.
Court sessions are open to the public on a first come, first serve basis.
In designing the Supreme Court Building, architect Cass Gilbert utilized a classically inspired entrance procession to the Courtroom.
Among the most notable architectural features in the Supreme Court Building are two self-supporting, elliptical marble staircases. Whether Cass Gilbert, the building’s architect, chose to include them for practical reasons or simply for their visual beauty is unknown.
Each of the staircases has 136 steps, completing seven spirals while rising five stories from the basement to the third floor. The staircases are cantilevered in design, eliminating the need for a central support as each step is anchored to the marble wall and rests upon the step below it. The staircases, therefore, are held in place by fit and pressure rather than mortar and steel.
The bronze railings for the stairs are adorned with a classical wave pattern, rosettes, and oval medallions featuring an eagle, a symbol of the United States.
The first session of the Supreme Court was convened on February 1, 1790, but it took some 145 years for the Supreme Court to find a permanent residence. During those years the Supreme Court lived a nomadic existence. Initially meeting in the Royal Exchange Building in New York, the Court established chambers in Independence Hall and later in City Hall when the national capitol moved to Philadelphia in 1790. The Court moved again when the Federal government moved in 1800 to the permanent capital in Washington. Since no provision had been made for a Supreme Court building, Congress lent the Court space in the new Capitol building.
What a day! Time to rest over a glass of Sangria and a Lebanese feast at the Lebanese Taverna.