Art promoting American ideals was on full view when rioters loyal to outgoing President Donald Trump stormed the US Capitol building on Wednesday. Lawmakers moved to safety when the mob breached the building in a tense scene that ironically played out against a rich visual tableaux celebrating American democracy, including monumental paintings depicting historical figures and some of their gracious exits from power or war.
Temporarily disrupting the Electoral College vote count process that certifies President-elect Joe Biden, the violent mob converged for a time in the Capitol Rotunda which prominently displays well-known Revolutionary War period scenes by John Trumbull.
Trumbull's four 18-foot paintings were commissioned by Congress in 1817. Besides the iconic "Declaration of Independence," the scenes notably depict honor and restraint in endings, including "Surrender of General Burgoyne," showcasing American hospitality and respect for a foe under peaceful blue skies; "Surrender of Lord Cornwallis," depicting General Washington calmly hanging out in the background of an orderly ceremony to send off the defeated adversary; and "General Washington Resigning His Commission," capturing the moment Washington retires from his position of commander-in-chief of the Continental Army, a move that cemented civilian authority over the military in American democracy. (Washington was pretty resolute that he would not be made King of the United States.)
Shown in Business Insider, a photographer captured one stunning moment in the Rotunda when a rioter holding a Confederate flag walked past a portrait of Charles Sumner, a former Massachussetts Senator who protested slavery, which is hung across from a portrait of John C. Calhoun, the seventh vice president of the United States, and a defender of slavery who supported secession during the Civil War.
The House had voted in July to remove Confederate figures from the Capitol building.
The pro-Trump mob moved about the Senate and House chambers, into offices and other spaces, including the Hall of Statuary. Damage to the historic building, property loss and the human toll was not immediately known as of Wednesday night.
This was the first time the US Capitol had been breached since the British attacked and burned the building in August of 1814, during the War of 1812, said Samuel Holliday, director of scholarship and operations with the US Capitol Historical Society, to CNN.