AMERICAN ART PROJECT – ASSIGNMENT INSTRUCTIONS
Statement of Purpose or “Why Am I Doing This?”
It is important to remember, represent, and honor a collective past, but it is equally important to understand the deeper significance of visual records. In this assignment, you will examine works of art available through the website of the Architect of the Capitol. The purpose is to emphasize how art can be used to portray historical events and convey a message when viewed in the context of the age in which it was created. This assignment is not an art critique. Look for connections between events and images. You will NOT be describing the event the artwork depicts, but the period of American history in which it was created. You will be creating either a document or a presentation.
Completing This Assignment:
• Click on this link: http://aoc.gov/paintings-0 (Historic Rotunda Paintings).
• Click on the individual images for each of the 8 paintings to see them in more detail and read the short article on each of the corresponding pages for these paintings.
• Choose 4 images and write a 200–300-word paragraph for each of them addressing the following:
1. When was the image commissioned and hung? What is the historical context of this painting? What events were occurring when this painting was created that could have contributed to its content? How are those connections between content and context most clearly presented?
2. Is the artist successful in communicating contextual influences? Is the message too difficult to understand for a modern viewer?
• As a heading for each paragraph, include the image, its title, and the artist.
• Click on this link: http://aoc.gov/capitol-hill/national-statuary-hall-collection/about-national-statuary-hall-collection (About the National Statuary Hall Collection).
• Read the short overview and description of the collection and search to find the 2 statues that represent your state.
• Copy the image for each representative of your state into the document or presentation.
o If you are not a resident of the United States or do not claim a “home state” for any reason, you are free to adopt any of the 50 states as your own for the purposes of this assignment.
• After the image, include the individual’s name and the state he or she represents.
• In a 200–300-word paragraph for each image,
o give a short summary of the individual’s historic significance and
o give an evaluation of whether this individual is a good choice to represent your state.
American Art Project
Declaration of Independence by John Trumbull
This is an oil on canvas painting by John Trumbull. The commissioning of the painting took effect in 1817. Two years later (1819), the painting was purchased. It was hung almost a decade later in 1826. The painting was made during the struggle for independence in the United States, which was under the control of Britain. The painting is a remembrance of the time the draft of the Declaration of Independence was submitted and to the Second Continental Congress. The Second Continental Congress was a meeting held at Pennsylvania State House, Philadelphia. During this meeting, it was passed that the thirteen American colonies were sovereign states, free from British influence and control. The draft of the Declaration of Independence was adopted a week later. There is a strong connection between content and the context of the painting. The painting depicts Thomas Jefferson, a key author of the draft, handing the Declaration to John Hancock, the President of the Continental Congress. The painting also depicts other members involved in drafting the Declaration of Independence. The painting fits the context in that this was the day the draft document was handed to the Second Continental Congress for scrutiny and adoption. The painting is a reminiscence of the historical moment. The artist is successful in communication the contextual influences because just by looking at the painting, one can see Thomas Jefferson passing the declaration to John Hancock. Any modern view can easily understand the message. In modern times, many viewers may relate this to a petition.
Landing of Columbus by John Vanderlyn
This is an oil on canvas painting by John Vanderlyn. Congress commissioned the painting in 1836. The painting was hung in 1847 in the Capitol Rotunda. This painting represents an interesting period in the history of America. This is the period when Christopher Columbus arrived in the West Indies. Columbus was on a mission to find a route connecting Europe to China when he landed in the West Indies. The painting depicts the moment that Christopher Columbus is said to have discovered the New World, although unknown to him. While Columbus arrived on the West Indies islands in the late 15th century, the painting was made in the mid-19th century following commissioning by the Congress. The major event surrounding the creation of this painting is neoclassicism. This is a period in history when artists in various fields drew inspiration from classical art especially from Ancient Rome and Greece. The connections between content and context are clearly presented by the drawing of Columbus and his men newly arrived on the Island, while the natives peek and others bow. Columbus and his men stand next to the sea, fully clothed, while the natives have no clothes. Vanderlyn is successful in communicating the contextual influences. A viewer can clearly see that Columbus and his men are sailors who seem sophisticated in dressing and weapons they are carrying. On the other hand, one can see the natives who appear to lead simple lives. The painting is quite simple to understand for a modern viewer due to the aforementioned reasons.
Baptism of Pocahontas by John Gadsby Chapman
This is also an oil on canvas painting. The painting was commissioned in 1839 and hung in 1840. The painting depicts the 17th century American history. This was the period of colonization in the United States and the subsequent spread of Christianity in the region. The painting depicts a baptism ceremony held at Jamestown, Virginia, in 1613 or 1614. Jamestown was the first permanent colonial settlement in the United States. The reason why this baptism is considered important is because it depicts the first ever converts to Christianity in native America. The painting shows Pacahontas, an Algonkian chief’s daughter, receiving baptism. The events occurring during this period mainly relates to Independence of the various American states from British rule. This painting could be an indication that native Americans had finally become submissive to the European culture(Tompkins, sss). Baptism indicates civilization for the native Americans, which is a result of colonization. The connections between content and context are clearly presented by the different dressing codes. The priest and Pocahontas are depicted wearing bright clothes, which signify holiness. The artist is successful in communicating the contextual influences because a viewer can be able to note the different culture between the natives and colonists by way of dressing. The message is not difficult to understand for a modern viewer since one can see there is baptism at the altar.
Discovery of the Mississippi by William H. Powell
This is an oil on canvas painting that was commissioned on 1853 and hung on 1855. The painting depicts Spanish explorer known as Hernando De Soto at the banks of the Mississippi River. De Soto was the first European explorer to have seen the river. This was in 1541 when European interests in the New World were highest. De Soto was a great Spanish explorer and conqueror. There were a number of events occurring during the creation of the painting. First, the United States was still reeling from the effects of colonization. De Soto was among some of the mean who had explored the New World, fighting the native inhabitants and seeking riches. Second, slave trade had only come to an end a few decades earlier. De Satos engaged in slave trade during his explorations. The connections between content and context are clearly presented by illustrating De Soto, his men, natives, and the Mississippi River. There is also a show of an assortment of weapons used in fighting off native Indians. The artist is not successful in communicating contextual influences. This is because the painting depicts so many activities occurring at the same time. In addition, the artist does not give prominence to the Mississippi River in the painting. In the same line, it is difficult for a modern viewer to understand the message.
National Statuary Hall Collection
Stephen Austin, Texas
Stephen Austin is one of the most significant individuals in the history of Texas. He is regarded as “The Father of Texas”. This is because he is credited with the founding of the State of Texas. Brought up in Missouri, Stephen Austin worked as storekeeper and managed his family’s mining business. In 1820, Austin’s father, Moses, had moved to San Antonio seeking for a land grant from the Mexican authorities. In 1821, Moses received permission to settle over 300 families. However, he died before he could accomplish his goals, leaving the work to Stephen Austin. Stephen Austin resettled continued what his father had started. However, he faced opposition from the Mexican government, which refused to recognized the land deal signed with his father. Through diplomacy, Austin was able to convince the Mexican government to give him the land grant. He was finally awarded the grant and made Texas’ empresario, in charge of controlling the resettlement and development of the land. Stephen Austin acted as the mediator between the colonists and the Mexican government. In 1833, Austin presented to the Mexican government a constitution for Texas. This constitution demanded amongst other things, the recognition of Texas as a state on its own. In 1835, Austin sought military help from Washington, which culminated in annexation of the state of Texas by the US. Stephen Austin is a good choice to represent Texas. This is because he did a lot in resettling American families and fighting for recognition of Texas as a state on its own.
Sam Houston, Texas
This is another notable figure in fighting for the state of Texas’ independence. Sam Houston was born in 1793 in Virginia. During the War of 1812, Houston served in the military but resigned in 1818 to study law. In 1819, he became the attorney general representing Nashville District. He served in the US House of Representatives between 1823 and 1827. In 1829, he became the Tennessee governor but resigned after about two years. Following his resignation, he engaged in diplomatic missions involving the state of Texas and Indian county. In 1833, he was appointed as one of the delegates petitioning for the separation of Texas and Cohuila. Throughout this period, Houston increasingly protested against Mexican government’s control of Texas. In 1835, he was appointed an army commander following the emergence of an armed struggle. His vast experience in the military helped Texas in securing victory. This contributed in the independence of the state. Sam Houston is a good individual to represent the state of Texas due to his immense contribution in securing Texas’ independence. During his presidential terms, Houston promoted peace with the Mexican government by avowing open confrontation that could result to war. He is also credited with improving Texas’ economy.
“America’s Story.” Texas. Last modified April 11, 2017. http://www.americaslibrary.gov/es/tx/es_tx_houston_1.html
“Baptism of Pocahontas.” Architect of the Capitol. Last modified April 11, 2017. https://www.aoc.gov/art/historic-rotunda-paintings/baptism-pocahontas
“Declaration of Independence.” Architect of the Capitol. Last modified April 4, 2017. https://www.aoc.gov/art/historic-rotunda-paintings/declaration-independence
“Discovery of the Mississippi by De Soto.” Architect of the Capitol. Last modified April 11, 2017. https://www.aoc.gov/art/historic-rotunda-paintings/discovery-mississippi-by-de- soto
“Landing of Columbus.” Architect of the Capitol. Last modified April 11, 2017. https://www.aoc.gov/art/historic-rotunda-paintings/landing-columbus
“Sam Houston.” Architect of the Capitol. Last modified April 11, 2017. https://www.aoc.gov/art/national-statuary-hall-collection/sam-houston
“Stephen Austin.” Architect of the Capitol. Last modified April 11, 2017. https://www.aoc.gov/art/national-statuary-hall-collection/stephen-austin
 “Declaration of Independence.” Architect of the Capitol. Last modified April 4, 2017. https://www.aoc.gov/art/historic-rotunda-paintings/declaration-independence
 “Landing of Columbus.” Architect of the Capitol. Last modified April 11, 2017. https://www.aoc.gov/art/historic-rotunda-paintings/landing-columbus
 “Baptism of Pocahontas.” Architect of the Capitol. Last modified April 11, 2017. https://www.aoc.gov/art/historic-rotunda-paintings/baptism-pocahontas
 “Discovery of the Mississippi by De Soto.” Architect of the Capitol. Last modified April 11, 2017. https://www.aoc.gov/art/historic-rotunda-paintings/discovery-mississippi-by-de-soto
 “Stephen Austin.” Architect of the Capitol. Last modified April 11, 2017. https://www.aoc.gov/art/national-statuary-hall-collection/stephen-austin
 “Sam Houston.” Architect of the Capitol. Last modified April 11, 2017. https://www.aoc.gov/art/national-statuary-hall-collection/sam-houston
 “America’s Story.” Texas. Last modified April 11, 2017. http://www.americaslibrary.gov/es/tx/es_tx_houston_1.html