At Large  January 11, 2021  Chandra Noyes

Here's the Status of the Capitol's Historic Artworks After Riots

architect of the capitol

John Trumbull, Declaration of Independence, 1826. Oil on canvas.

As a shocked nation and world watched the violent scenes unfold at the US Capitol last week, art lovers and conservators paid special notice to the backdrop of many of these scenes: the historic paintings and sculptures that line the walls of the Rotunda. As rioters overtook the building, many doors and windows were damaged, but thankfully, it appears that the art and building itself were unscathed.

architect of the capitol

John Trumbull, General George Washington Resigning His Commission, 1826. Oil on canvas.

At twelve by eighteen feet, the eight paintings hanging in the Rotunda towered over the action below, watching the unprecedented events of January 6. Four canvases by John Trumbull, commissioned by Congress in 1817 and placed in the Rotunda between 1819 and 1824, depict the revolutionary period: Declaration of Independence, Surrender of General Burgoyne, Surrender of Lord Cornwallis, and General George Washington Resigning his Commission. Between 1840 and 1855 four scenes showing early exploration were added to the Rotunda: Landing of Columbus by John Vanderlyn (1847), Discovery of the Mississippi by William Powell (1855), Baptism of Pocahontas by John Chapman (1840), Embarkation of the Pilgrims by Robert Weir (1843).

architect of the capitol

Adelaide Johnson, Portrait Monument to Lucretia Mott, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, 1920. Marble.

The nearby National Statuary Hall houses thirty-five busts and statues honoring presidents and important historical figures. While those smaller objects may seem like easier targets, they were undamaged, save for a bust of Zachary Taylor that was apparently smattered with blood.

architect of the capitol

Constantino Brumidi, Apotheosis of Washington, 1865.

Forty-eight feet above the floor and far out of reach was the stunning fresco The Apotheosis of Washington, painted by Constantino Brumidi in 1865. Showing George Washington flanked by Liberty, Victory, Science, War and other allegorical figures, some fifteen-feet tall, serenely looked down on the chaos below.

Conservators and preservationists have thankfully found little damage to this works, despite the chaos of the scene. In an interview with the New York Times, former director of policy development for the National Trust for Historic Preservation Anthony Veerkamp suggested that some of the physical damage be left unrepaired, “as a reminder that our monuments, our institutions, and our values are all vulnerable, and must be constantly cared for.”

For now, the lovers of art and its care-takers have breathed a sigh of relief. Meanwhile, the nation reckons with and begins to move on from these stunning events, having narrowly avoided a much greater toll on human life and treasured American property.

About the Author

Chandra Noyes

Chandra Noyes is the former Managing Editor for Art & Object.

Subscribe to our free e-letter!

Webform

Latest News

12 African American Artists You Should Know More About
African American artists have contributed to this nation’s cultural landscape…
Steve Porter Explores Signatures as Portraits with Signed99 Project
British artist Steve Porter has an intriguing portrait project: Signed99…
Cubist Portrait of Picasso’s Daughter Could Fetch Over $15 Million
Though Pablo Picasso engaged in many messy and turbulent romantic relationships…
Exploring the History of Socialist Realism
As empires fell and made way for nation-states, dissolving Medieval social…
2003 Unbearable: Y2K Fashion is More Problematic than You Remember
Instagram, shop windows, and street style all shout that the 2000s are back:…