Since 1994 the U.S. Capitol Historical Society has conducted a series of conferences each fall on the art and architectural history of the United States Capitol planned with the cooperation of the Curator of the Office of the Architect of the Capitol, Dr. Barbara Wolanin. The Press is publishing the volumes resulting from this series.
“(Paris on the Potomac) is another consistently engaging and insightful collection of essays published as part of the Perspectives on the Art and Architectural History of the United States Capitol series…. As a whole, the collection underlies the importance of the French-American amity and offers Washington, D.C.—as much a European city as an American one—as irrefutable evidence that space and place are occupied by politics and ideology as much as they are by people.”
— The Journal of Southern History
Donald Kennon, Senior Editor
US Capitol Historical Society
While the majority of scholarship on early Washington focuses on its political and physical development, in Incidental Architect Gordon S. Brown describes the intellectual and social scene of the 1790s and early 1800s through the lives of a prominent couple whose cultural aspirations served as both model and mirror for the city’s own. When William and Anna Maria Thornton arrived in Washington, D.C., in 1794, the new nation’s capital was little more than a raw village.
In 1910 John Merven Carrère, a Paris-trained American architect, wrote, “Learning from Paris made Washington outstanding among American cities.” The five essays in Paris on the Potomac explore aspects of this influence on the artistic and architectural environment of Washington, D.C., which continued long after the well-known contributions of Peter Charles L’Enfant, the transplanted French military officer who designed the city’s plan.
Like the ancient Roman Pantheon, the U.S. Capitol was designed by its political and aesthetic arbiters to memorialize the virtues, events, and persons most representative of the nation's ideals—an attempt to raise a particular version of the nation's founding to the level of myth. American Pantheon examines the influences upon not only those virtues and persons selected for inclusion in the American pantheon, but also those excluded.
At the age of thirty-six, in 1852, Lt. Montgomery Cunningham Meigs of the Army Corps of Engineers reported to Washington, D.C., for duty as a special assistant to the chief army engineer, Gen. Joseph G. Totten. It was a fateful assignment, both for the nation’s capital and for the bright, ambitious, and politically connected West Point graduate. Meigs's forty-year tenure in the nation's capital was by any account spectacularly successful.
The subject matter and iconography of much of the art in the U.S. Capitol forms a remarkably coherent program of the early course of North American empire, from discovery and settlement to the national development and westward expansion that necessitated the subjugation of the indigenous peoples. In Art and Empire, Vivien Green Fryd's revealing cultural and political interpretation of the portraits, reliefs, allegories, and historical paintings commissioned for the U.S.
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.”