PLANNING WASHINGTON, DC: A BRIEF HISTORY
During the early 1790s George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Pierre Charles L’Enfant collaborated on the layout of our Nation’s newly appointed Capital of Washington, DC. Jefferson, in accordance with Washington and L’Enfant, envisioned the city’s broad avenues to be lined with buildings based on ancient Roman temples. These men understood the value of references to classical antiquity and recognized the need to create an instant history. By doing so, they could legitimize a nascent United States to skeptical Europeans and other dissenters. (Weeks 1994, 18)
By 1800 an early version of the Capitol building was erected and occupied by the House of Representatives, the Senate, the Library of Congress and the Supreme Court. The building would continue to be modified over the next 75 years, eventually appearing as it does now. Although the Capitol underwent continuous modification throughout the nineteenth century, the city of Washington itself remained structurally primitive. Toward the end of the 1800s, a federal planning committee was created to commission structures in the Metropolitan area. With the establishment of these projects, came the necessity for laborers. Many of these workers were immigrants, and chief among them were Italians.
The following seeks to address/reveal/bring to light the contributions and accomplishments of Italians and Italian Americans in the art and architecture of Washington DC. In some instances, Italians were responsible for the conception and production of notable works in the area; in other cases, it was an Italian hand that executed the vision of another. Either way, the presence of Italians is everywhere in the District of Columbia.
Holy Rosary Church: 595 Third Street, NW
Easily considered the premier symbol of Italians in Washington, DC, Holy Rosary Church once served as the nucleus of the District’s small, Italian community. According to the 1913 Federal Census, three thousand Italians were scattered throughout the Capital. Many of these immigrants spoke little English and would benefit from a Parish that catered to their needs. Several priests were approached by the Archdiocese of Washington to take on this mission, but many declined. Eventually the Archdiocese found Fr. De Carlo, who at the time was studying at the Catholic University of America. Being an Italian immigrant himself, Fr. De Carlo agreed to help. The young priest would go on to become the community’s first pastor and would later establish Holy Rosary Church. (De Carlo 1938, 10)
The Italian congregation first met at a house rented by Father De Carlo at 83 H St, NW, which became known as the Chapel of the Holy Rosary. As word spread of Father De Carlo’s Italian masses, the Chapel soon became too small to accommodate the ever-growing congregation. In 1914, a committee of parishioners formed to raise funds to purchase land where an actual Church could be built. (De Carlo 1938, 11) A lot on the corner of 3rd and F streets, NW was chosen and construction commenced. At the cornerstone laying ceremony, James Cardinal Gibbons prepared a parchment written in Latin proclaiming the new Church to be “for the exclusive use of the Italian people of the City.” (De Carlo 1938, 15)
The design of Holy Rosary is reminiscent of churches from the early Italian Renaissance. When construction was completed on April 29 1923, adornment of the Holy Rosary’s interior could begin. Decoration culminated around 1930 with the arrival of the Church’s main marble altar from Carrara, Italy. The painting of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary, above the altar in the apse of the Church, followed from Rome. (De Carlo 1938, 39)
Today Holy Rosary continues to serve the Italian community in the Metropolitan Washington area.
Franciscan Monastery: 1400 Quincy St, NE
The Franciscan Monastery and the Memorial Church of the Holy Sepulchre were designed by Roman-born Aristides Leonori. The complex was built between 1898-1899. Many of its decorative elements are direct quotations from ancient Roman art and architecture. The Rosary Portico conjures images of the Cloister of St. John Lateran in Rome. The Façade is decorated with early Christian symbols from the Catacombs and the Portincula chapel is modeled to evoke the Church of St. Francis in Assisi. (Franciscan 2007)
Given its location in the Brookland neighborhood of Northeast DC, the Franciscan Monastery is one of those off-the-beaten-path gems that tourists and even residents tend to miss. Nevertheless, it is truly worth a visit as it offers lovely gardens, fine vistas and an overall contemplative experience.
National Cathedral: 3101 Wisconsin Ave, NW
On January 6, 1893 Congress granted a charter to the Protestant Episcopal Cathedral Foundation of the District of Columbia, allowing it to establish a Cathedral and institutions of higher learning.
The Rev. Dr. Henry Yates Satterlee, the first Protestant Episcopal bishop of Washington, secured land in 1896 on Mount Saint Alban—a truly majestic spot in the Washington area. Ten years later, the Cathedral opened its doors to people of all faiths and has embraced them as they have gathered to worship and pray, to mourn the passing of world leaders and to confront the pressing moral and social issues of the day. (Washington, 2007)
The Cathedral was completed and consecrated on September 29, 1990, taking almost 100 years to finalize due to its ongoing visual aesthetic program. Much of the sculptural decoration at the Cathedral was carved by first generation Italian immigrants, hailing from many regions and towns- Tuscany, Lombardy and Apulia: Florence, Carrara, Lucca, Bisuchio, Pietrasanta and Molfetta. (Hunt 1999, 142)
From 1956-1978, the Cathedral’s Master Carver was Roger Morigi. (Hunt 1999, 36) Vincent Palumbo succeeded Morigi when he retired and remained there into the early 1990s. Other Italian carvers at the Cathedral included John Guarante, Frank Zuchetti, Gino Bresciani, Paul Palumbo (Vincent’s father), Oswald Del Rate and Edward Ratti. (Hunt 1999, 75 & 142)
Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception: 400 Michigan Ave, NE
Located on the campus of the Catholic University of America, the National Shrine is a distinctive church in the Metropolitan area. This Basilica incorporates several different stylistic canons and elements from the Romanesque and Gothic eras. The Shrine is easily identified by its exterior mosaic-inlayed dome which is flanked by a single spire. Several chapels dedicated to various saints and the Blessed Mother occupy the aisles of the Basilica.
While there, visit the St. Catherine of Siena chapel in the Great Upper Church. St. Catherine of Siena was a laywoman and a member of the Dominican Third Order. Born in Siena in 1347, she fought several heresies that threatened the Church at the time. St. Catherine is remembered, among other things, for having urged Pope Gregory XI to return to Rome after his 40-year exile in France. In 1970 St. Catherine was one of the first women to be named a Doctor of the Church due to her extensive writings on mystical prayer. (Basilica 2007)
National Archives: 700 Pennsylvania Ave, NW
The National Archives preserves documents and materials produced by the United States Federal government that it feels must necessarily be conserved either for legal or historical reasons. The public is then free to access these records. At its Washington DC location, the Charters of Freedoms are displayed in the building’s rotunda. Congress approved construction of site in 1926 and commissioned John Russell Pope to create its design. Pope modeled the building after a classical Roman temple.
While the interior is somewhat austere, the exterior features carved reliefs, sculptural decoration and monumental statues. Three of these statues were carved by Italians between 1933 and 1935. They include Future carved by the Piccirilli Brothers, Heritage by the Gino A. Ratti Company and Guardianship also by the Gino A. Ratti Company. (US 2007) These statues truly elevate the import of this building.
Arguably one of the most important buildings in the entire United States of America, the Capitol building is replete with Italian contributions and iconography. Not only was its principal artist an Italian immigrant, but several works throughout the complex were executed by Italians and Italian Americans. Since the growing nation had not yet produced the caliber of artists that were already present in Europe, it was often immigrants who built and decorated our churches, public buildings and monuments. (LP)
The items below describe in great detail the contributions of Italians to the Capitol building. Some of the artists described below include Constantino Brumidi, Filippo Costaggini, Enrico Causici, Antonia Capellano, Luigi Persico, Carlo Franzoni, Francisco Iardella, Gaetano Cecere, the Piccirilli brothers and more.
Brumidi honed his artistic talent in Rome, where he had worked at the Vatican restoring Renaissance frescoes. His close contact with these works, especially those of Raphael, would serve as a direct influence on his artistic program at the Capitol. When he arrived in Washington in 1854, he was soon enlisted by the supervisor of extensions to the Capitol, Capt. Montgomery C. Meigs of the Army Corps of Engineers, to beatify the Capitol in a way that was akin to European styles but with decidedly American nuances. More than ten years later, in 1865, Brumidi would begin to work on his greatest work, the Apotheosis of George Washington. From then on, Brumidi would remain as an artist at the Capitol until his death in 1880. (LP)
Apotheosis of George Washington, Capitol Rotunda: Considered the masterpiece of Brumidi’s oeuvre, the Apotheosis of George Washington adorns the canopy of the Rotunda dome. Brumidi spent over a year and a half preparing cartoons for the fresco and would eventually begin painting it in 1865. The fresco spreads over 5,000 square feet of concave surface and soars/is 180 feet from the floor of the Rotunda. (O’Connor 1992, 86) It illustrates a regal George Washington enthroned in the heavens where he is surrounded by 15 maidens. Flanking him are the female personifications of victory and liberty. The other 13 women represent the original 13 colonies. This grouping is then encircled by figures from classical Roman mythology. However, here they appear with American themes and individuals. Brumidi finished the fresco in 1865 taking him only eleven months. He would have finished sooner, but he was constantly being interrupted by other projects around the Capitol. (LP)
Frieze of American History, Rotunda: The Frieze of American History is a series of scenes that recounts over 400 years of history in America beginning with the landing of Columbus. The design program was developed by Brumidi who began painting the frieze in 1878. Brumidi utilized the technique of trompe l’oeil by painting the scenes in grisaille. This was intentional as Brumidi wanted his painting to fool the eye of onlookers who would believe the frieze was a stone carved relief.
In 1880, upon painting the scene of William Penn Negotiating with the Delaware Indians, Brumidi fell from his scaffold. The fall was so traumatic that Brumidi died a few days after the accident at the age of 75. Filippo Costaggini, another Italian from Rome, was appointed to continue using Brumidi’s sketches. Costaggini completed the project in 1890, but miscalculations of the frieze’s dimensions resulted in over 30 feet of the wall being left unillistrated. The frieze remained this way until 1951 when Congress finally commissioned a new artist to complete the project. (O’Connor 1992, 82)
Brumidi Corridors, Senate entry level: The area known as the Brumidi Corridors is located on the Senate side of the Capitol building, where extensions had been made during the 1850s. Brumidi is recognized here to acknowledge his accomplishments and credit him for the design program of the corridors, which are often likened to Raphael’s loggia in the Vatican. Brumidi may very well have been influenced by the Renaissance master although here he features scenes from American history, famous American innovators, and American flora and fauna. With so many projects commanding Brumidi’s attention simultaneously, much of the work in this area was executed by his atelier. (LP)
The Car of History, National Statuary Hall: The Car of History refers to the marble sculpture that extends from the Willard Clock in the Old Hall of the House of Representatives. The Old Hall was the meeting place of congressmen met from 1807-1857. The sculpture was executed by Carlo Franzoni in 1819. Franzoni depicts Clio, the muse of history, standing on a winged chariot. The chariot, or car, represents the passage of time while Clio dutifully records events as they take place. This served as a reminder to Congress that as they were making laws, they were too were making history and should therefore be prudent with their decisions. The chariot wheel serves as the face of the clock. (LP)
Liberty and the Snake, National Statuary Hall: Enrico Causici’s plaster statue, Liberty and the Snake was placed in the Old Hall of the House sometime between 1817 and 1819. The statue originally stood above the Speaker’s dais when the House of Representatives met in this space. Causici depicts the female personification of Liberty holding a facsimile of the Constitution in her right hand while an American eagle perches beside her. To the left of Liberty is a rattlesnake wrapped around the section of a column. The rattlesnake was a symbolic choice on the part of Causici because it is indigenous to America, it warns its predators if it’s going to attack and it never attacks unless provoked- a sentiment that the US wanted to project regarding its attitude toward war. (LP)
Relief Portraits, House Chamber: As part of a 1950 congressional commission, Gaetano Cecere carved several marble relief portraits that hang over the Gallery doors in the House Chamber. Among the individuals he carved are George Mason, Justinian, de Montfort and Alfonso X, the Wise. (Architect 2007)
Apotheosis of Democracy, the sculptural pediment over the House entrance on the U.S. Capitol’s east front: Paul Wayland Bartlett (1865-1925) modeled the figures in Paris, France, and Washington, D.C., in 1911-1914. They were carved in Georgia white marble by the Piccirilli Brothers of New York City in 1914-1916. The pediment was unveiled on August 2, 1916. (Architect 2007)
Peace Protecting Genius is the allegorical group consisting of two figures that fills the center of the pediment. An armed female figure representing Peace stands erect, draped in a mantle that almost completely hides her breastplate and coat of mail. Her left arm rests on her buckler, which is supported by the altar at her side. In the background is the olive tree of peace. Her right arm is extended in a gesture of protection over the youthful winged figure of Genius, who nestles confidently at her feet and holds in his right hand a torch symbolizing immortality.
The composition is completed by figures representing two great sources of wealth. To the left of the central group, Industry is represented by (from right to left) a printer and his press, an ironworker, foundry workers pouring molten metal, a textile spinner at her wheel, and a boy catching a fish. To the right of the central group, Agriculture is represented by (from left to right) a youth, a reaper, a husbandman (agriculturist) with an ox, a woman and children harvesting a field, and a ram and a lamb. Waves at either end of the sculpture symbolize the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. (Architect 2007)
War and Peace, Cannon House Office Building: Luigi Persico executed these marble statues of War and Peace in Italy. They arrived at the Capitol in 1834 and were placed in niches on the east front portico, flanking the doors to the Capitol Rotunda. Over the following years both statues deteriorated badly, and in 1958 they were removed during the extension of the Capitol’s east front.
The delapidated figures were mended so that plaster models could be made from the originals by George Gianetti of Washington, D.C. Carvers then reproduced the new figures in Vermont marble, and they were placed in 1960.
The 1958 plaster models of War and Peace are located in the Cannon House Office Building rotunda. (Architect 2007)
Bust of Giuseppe Garibaldi, outside the entryway to the Old Supreme Court: in a small niche located by the Old Supreme Court are the busts of famous revolutionaries. He was an Italian patriot and soldier of the Risorgimento. He personally led many of the military campaigns that brought about the formation of a unified Italy.
Genius of America, Cannon House Office Building: The sculptural pediment over the east central entrance of the U.S. Capitol is called Genius of America. The central figure represents America, who rests her right arm on a shield inscribed “USA”; the shield is supported by an altar bearing the inscription “July 4, 1776.” America points to Justice, who lifts scales in her left hand and in her right hand holds a scroll inscribed “Constitution, 17 September 1787.” To America’s left are an eagle and the figure of Hope, who rests her arm on an anchor.
Luigi Persico’s original design for the sculpture included figures of Peace, Plenty, and Hercules; these were replaced at the suggestion of President John Quincy Adams with the figure of Hope. Adams wished the design to “represent the American Union founded on the Declaration of Independence and consummated by the organization of the general government under the Federal Constitution, supported by Justice in the past, and relying upon Hope in Providence for the future.”
Persico created the original sandstone figures in 1825-1828.
When the Capitol’s east central front was extended in 1958-1962, the badly deteriorated figures were removed and restored. Plaster models were then made. From these models the reproductions seen today on the pediment were carved in Georgia White marble by Bruno Mankowski.
The entire pediment is 81 feet 6 inches in length and the figures are 9 feet high. The plaster models are displayed in the basement rotunda of the Cannon House Office Building, on the subway level. The original sandstone figures are in storage. (Architect 2007)
Fame and Peace, Dirksen Senate Office Building: The two winged figures, hovering in the air, hold laurel wreaths above a bas relief of the first president. Fame, on the right, also holds a trumpet; Peace, on the left, a palm branch. The original sandstone panel and relief were executed by Antonio Capellano in 1827. By the time of the extension of the east central front of the Capitol, over a century and a half later, they had deteriorated badly and were reproduced in marble by carvers from the Vermont Marble Company. The plaster model used to create the new carvings is located on the north wall of the Dirksen Senate Office Building subway terminal. The original sandstone bust is on display near the Capitol Crypt. (Architect 2007)
Union Station: Massachusetts and Louisiana Ave, NE
The design of Union Station is based on the Baths of Diocletian in Rome (Weeks 1994, 49). Columbus plaza, so named for its monumental grouping of Christopher Columbus and others in a fountain, greets visitors who travel through the station daily. This is also the site where embassies of Italy and Spain lay a wreath the Knights of Columbus on Columbus Day each year. The Station sits on the edge of an area once known as “Swampoodle,” an infamous shantytown located on the sewery remnants of Tiber Creek. (http://www.unionstationdc.com/history.asp); Italians that immigrated to DC first settled in this area (LP).
Italian Embassy: 3000 Whitehaven St, NW
The Italian Embassy is headquartered in Washington, DC where it serves Italians living in the US as well as Americans alike. Aside from providing consular services, the Embassy also sponsors cultural events and advises travelers. Numerous Italian artifacts and works of art are displayed throughout the Embassy.
For 75 years, the Embassy occupied a site on Fuller St, NW in Adams Morgan. After the new location on Whitehaven Street was selected, the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs sponsored a design competition for a new Embassy. Piero Sartogo architects where chosen because their proposal best fulfilled the criteria outlined by the Ministry; namely, that the design idea be distinctively Italian while also complimenting the surrounding landscape and architecture of Washington, DC. The following is a description of the design’s symbolism.
In keeping with Washington’s historical beginnings, the new Embassy’s basic footprint – a large square – mirrors George Washington’s original ten by ten mile square parcel allotted for the creation for the District of Columbia. In fact, the building’s angular site was a part of architect Pierre Charles L’Enfant’s classical 18th century plan for the city, in broad, diagonal avenues overlaid a basic grid, resulting in numerous circles and triangles where streets and avenues intersected. In the Embassy’s design, a diagonal passageway divides the square building in much the same way as the Potomac River divided the original plan for the District, while it overlays and radiates out from the central atrium, as Washington’s avenues radiate out from the U.S. Capitol dome.
Sartogo’s building plan also evokes Italy’s rich architectural tradition, with the patterns of solids and spaces and the lean, austere lines characteristic of a Tuscan villa, while the great, slanting buttress that drops down the slope toward the park recalls the stalwart defensive bastions of a medieval Italian castle. The Italian character of the Embassy is further enhanced by its exquisite furnishings of modern Italian design, along with the classical paintings and ancient artifacts which are displayed throughout the building.
The Embassy overlooks the intersection of Whitehaven Street and Massachusetts Avenue, one of the most prestigious areas of the city’s northwest quadrant, on land that sweeps down into the verdant hardwood forests of Rock Creek Park. The building’s clean, purist lines distinguish it from the neighborhood’s neoclassical architecture. (Embassy 2007)
Supreme Court: 1st and East Capitol Sts, NE
Figure of Moses on east pediment carved by roger morigi (Hunt 1999, 35) along with several carved capitals (Hunt 1999, 73). Research Pending
Library of Congress: 101 Independence Ave, SE
The Nation’s Library has almost every book ever published in the United States as well as a strong collection of foreign texts. Books from Italy can be found in the Library’s European Division reading room.
The building is described as an ornate Italian Renaissance structure. (Bisbort and Barrett Osborne 2000, 31) A bronze fountain displaying the Roman god of water, Neptune, welcomes visitors who pass by it on their way to the Library’s main entrance. (Bisbort and Barrett Osborne 2000, 39) Italian stone carvers crafted ornamental works at the Library during the 1890s including Roger Morigi’s father, Napoleone. (Hunt 1999, 39) More Research Pending
National Building Museum: 401 F St, NW
The building museum was originally called the Pension Building, where staff could administer Civil War veterans’ pensions. The design was that of Capt. Montgomery C. Meigs who based it upon Michelangelo’s Farnese Palace in Rome. Construction on the site lasted from 1882-1887. (Weeks 1994, 56)
Lincoln Memorial: West Potomac Park (west end of the Mall)
While the statue of Lincoln was designed by Daniel Chester French in 1919, the actual carving was executed by the Piccirilli Brothers in 1888. The brothers immigrated to the Bronx, NY from Massa Carrara in Tuscany. It was there that they soon developed a reputation for their masterful carving techniques. French was familiar with their work and enlisted their help in producing such an important commission. The brothers completed the statue in May of 1920. Their execution of the statue was so accurate that no pins or adhesive were needed to hold the different marble pieces together-they simply rest upon one another. (Chiaviello 2005)
Jefferson Memorial: The Tidal Basin
The Memorial is modeled after the Pantheon in Rome and reflects Jefferson’s affinity for classical architecture. The design was adapted from a rendering by John Russell Pope in 1942. (Weeks 1994, 87)
Dumbarton Oaks: 3101 R St, NW
The ten acres of terraced gardens on the estate incorporate elements of traditional Italian gardens. There is also a Roman-style amphitheater on the grounds. (Dumbarton 2007)
Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden: 7th and Independence Ave, SW
Permanent collection includes various modern and contemporary Italian media.
National Gallery of Art: 4th and Constitution Avenue NW
The West Building’s permanent collection includes Italian Painting, 13th-18th c.; Italian Sculpture 14th-20th c. and Italian decorative arts. Of note is the NGA’s possession of Leonardo daVinci’s painting of Ginevra de’Benci (1474/1478). This is the only painting by the artist in the Western Hemisphere.
Like the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, the National Gallery’s East Building has a strong permanent collection of modern Italian art
National Museum of Women in the Arts: 1250 New York Ave, NW
Permanent collection includes 16th-20th c. Italian paintings.