The United States Capitol is a national cultural icon, and among the most visually recognized seats of government in the world. The past quarter century has witnessed an explosion of scholarly interest in the art and architectural history of the Capitol. The emergence of the historic preservation movement and the maturation of the discipline of art conservation have refocused attention on the Capitol as the American "temple of liberty." Major restoration and conservation projects have made possible a better understanding and appreciation of the building and its decoration.
The United States Capitol: Designing and Decorating a National Icon is a product of this revival of scholarly interest. The book combines the papers from the U.S. Capitol Historical Society's first two conferences dedicated to the visual history and appreciation of this most significant of public buildings in the United States.
The first six papers in the collection focus on the roles of the architects of the Capitol from the contentious and delay-ridden first decade of construction through the twentieth-century expansion and modernization. The six essays in the book's second section examine a variety of topics relating to the Capitol's artistic decoration, including the origins of Statuary Hall, the mural Westward Ho! and other paintings and artistic embellishments.
Donald R. Kennon is the former chief historian and vice president of the United States Capitol Historical Society. He is editor of the Ohio University Press series Perspectives on the History of Congress, 1789-1801.