The story of the Statue of Freedom is quite fascinating, as is the painting on the inside of the dome. It is a classical female figure, with long flowing hair and wearing a helmet with a crest composed of an eagle’s head and feathers. Her gown is secured with a brooch inscribed “U.S.” over which is draped a flowing robe fringed with fur. Every detail was scrutinized before approval by then Secretary of War Jefferson Davis like what she held in her hands or wore on her head.
As was custom in nineteenth century art, the Statue of Freedom does not wear or hold a knitted liberty cap, as would be expected, a practice that goes back to freed slaves in ancient Rome and was adopted as a symbol of liberty or freedom during the American and French Revolutions and was usually shown as red. The statues crested helmet and sword suggests she is prepared to protect the nation. Some of the people working on the statue were themselves slaves and therefore Jefferson Davis rejected the first two designs. The original plaster model is now in the centerpiece of Emancipation Hall at the Capital Visitors Center, so you can view it up close and personal.
The painting under the dome depicts six ideals with Roman mythology connections
The Apotheosis of Washington depicts George Washington sitting amongst the heavens in an exalted manner, or in literal terms, ascending and becoming a god (apotheosis). Washington, the first U.S. president and commander-in-chief of the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War, is allegorically represented, surrounded by figures from classical mythology. Washington is draped in purple, a royal color, with a rainbow arch at his feet, flanked by the goddess Victoria (draped in green, using a horn) to his left and the Goddess of Liberty to his right.
E Pluribus Unum, Out of many one.
Freedom,” also known as Columbia, is a personification of War, and depicts a woman fighting for liberty with a raised sword, a cape and a helmet and shield, trampling figures representing Tyranny and Kingly Power. To her left is a fierce bald eagle assisting with arrows and a thunderbolt.
Next panel shows Minerva, Roman goddess of crafts and wisdom who represents science and depicts Benjamin Franklin, Samuel F.B. Morse and Robert Fulton and also a teacher demonstrating the use of dividers.
Up next is Marine and shows Neptune, Roman sea-god, with trident and crown of seaweed riding in a shell chariot drawn by sea horses. Venus, goddess of love born from the sea, is helping lay the transatlantic telegraph cable, with an ironclad warship in the background.
Mercury, the Roman god of commerce, with his winged petasos and sandals and a caduceus, is depicted giving a bag of gold to American Revolutionary War financier Robert Morris. To the left, men move a box on a dolly; on the right, the anchor and sailors lead into “Marine.”
Mechanics is represented by Vulcan, the Roman god of fire and forge, standing with an anvil with his food on a cannon. The man at the forge represents the ironwork during the construction of the dome.
Ceres, Roman goddess of agriculture, shows her wearing a wreath of wheat and with a cornucopia, symbol of plenty, while sitting on a mechanical reaper, and with a young American holding the reins of horses. The goddess Flora gathers flowers in the foreground.
Visiting Washington DC is a bucket list thing, since I am a huge history buff. 2021 brings an opportunity and the Capital Dome visit is on it. The not so obvious parts of our nation’s history where there is more to this story and those who influenced it.