20 December 2010

L'Enfant's Slow March To Statuary Hall

Pierre Charles L'Enfant is one step closer to being memorialized in the US Capitol's Statuary Hall. The House of Representatives on 16 December passed a bill introduced by District of Columbia Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton that would allow DC to place a statue of a prominent District resident in the hall, an honor usually reserved for the states.

Should President Obama sign the bill into law after Senate passage--still an uncertainty--a L'Enfant statue could move into Statuary Hall immediately. The DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities in 2006 tapped area artist Gordon Kray to sculpt a L'Enfant statue in anticipation of eventually being granted the right to place a DC statue alongside those of other American luminaries in the Capitol. Since its completion in 2007, the L'Enfant statue has stood in the lobby of a city government building located at 1 Judiciary Square (pictures below), a few steps away from a statue of abolitionist Frederick Douglass, also commissioned by the city for eventual placement in the Capitol.

If the current version of the bill (which only grants DC one statue in the hall) clears remaining legislative hurdles, the District will be forced to select either the L'Enfant or Douglass sculptures for placement in the Capitol.

Gordon Kray's L'Enfant statue at 1 Judiciary Square

The statue's profile appears to adhere closely to the only known contemproary likeness of L'Enfant, which was a silhouette executed by Sara DeHart in 1785 and today hangs in the Diplomatic Reception Room at the State Department. Attached to L'Enfant's lapel is a medallion denoting his membership in the Society of the Cincinnati, an organization whose membership was limited to officers who had served at least three years in the Continental Army or Navy. L'Enfant designed the society's medallion in the early 1780's.

A compass in L'Enfant's hand

Oddly enough, the map in L'Enfant's hand does not appear to be his plan for the city, but the one Andrew Ellicott slightly altered and engraved after L'Enfant's dismissal from the federal city project in 1792. (note the similarities between the title of this map and the Ellicott version found here)

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