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Constantino Brumidi’s The Apotheosis of Washington, 1865.
Constantino Brumidi’s The Apotheosis of Washington, 1865.

Curators Assess Damage to Capitol Artworks in Wake of Pro-Trump Mob

It appears that the majority of the many historical paintings and sculptures on display in the US Capitol escaped lasting harm amid the damage done by pro-Trump supporters who stormed the building on January 5, according to the New York Times; however, several works were vandalized or destroyed and some may have been looted.

Among the works stolen, damaged, or defaced are a nineteenth-century marble bust of Zachary Taylor, the twelfth president of the United States, who died in office in 1850; the sculpture was splashed with a substance that appeared to be blood. An evacuated picture frame found lying near the bust suggests that the image once contained within was removed; additionally, video posted to social media outlets by participants in the mob shows one man jamming a framed photograph of the Dalai Lama into a backpack, and another tearing up what appears to be a scroll bearing Chinese characters.

Escaping damage altogether is The Apotheosis of Washington, an 1865 fresco by Constantino Brumidi that depicts allegorical figures including Liberty, Science, Victory, and War flanking the nation’s first president. The work is inaccessible thanks to its location on the rotunda ceiling. Also seemingly unmolested are four eighteen-foot-wide canvases commissioned from John Trumbull by the US Congress in 1817, all on display in the rotunda and illustrating various revolutionary scenes; and the 1823 Rembrandt Peale “porthole” life portrait of George Washington. Hung in the Old Senate Chamber, it is purported to be one of the most treasured works in the Capitol collection.

Mentioned as particularly vulnerable were the thirty-five sculptures of notable US figures, among them Jefferson Davis, Thomas Edison, and Chief Standing Bear, occupying the National Statuary Hall south of the Rotunda. While these appeared to escape lasting damage, photos emerged of a bronze sculpture of mid-1970s Republican president Gerald Ford, which stands in the rotunda, wearing a red MAGA ball cap, a Trump 2020 flag tucked under his arm.

A tally of damage and loss sustained by the Capitol collection is expected at a future date.

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