In a jolting inauguration installation, marred by unintentionally dark symbolism that, hopefully, wasn’t discerned by the Bidens, this afternoon’s celebration after the joyful swearing-in of the new President and Vice President included a brief walk through the Capitol rotunda led by Missouri Senator Roy Blunt, chairman of the Senate Republican Policy Committee.
Am I the only one who gasped at the photo in this tweet?
— CSPAN (@cspan) January 20, 2021
Below is a closer look at the identification on the pedestal of the 1886 statue by Charles H. Niehaus that loomed behind the First Couple. (The inscribed name is hard to read in my embed, above, of C-SPAN’s tweet):
That’s James Garfield, the 20th U.S. President, who was fatally shot a mere four months after taking office. With many of us fearing for President Biden’s safety in the wake of the recent Capitol chaos, this disturbing reminder of Presidential vulnerability is not something that we needed today.
Here’s Sen. Blunt (at 3:26:50 in this C-SPAN video of the Inauguration), awkwardly expounding on the idyllic “Landscape with Rainbow”—a role that might have been more convincingly pulled off by Stephanie Stebich, director of the Smithsonian American Art Museum (from which this painting was borrowed):
Normally at this time, we have a lunch….By those traditions, usually there’s a painting at the front of that event [which] the chairman picks. This time, not knowing what we were going to do about an event until late, I asked Dr. Biden to help pick the painting, and this is the one that she recommended. The painting is “Landscape with Rainbow”—rainbow, always a good sign….
The artist, Robert Duncanson, was the best known African American painter in the years surrounding the Civil War….[That this is] a painting that’s so much like an American utopia, on the verge of a war that we would fight over slavery, makes all of that even more interesting….While he [Duncanson] faced lots of challenges, he was optimistic, even in 1859, about America.
In today’s LA Times, Christopher Knight had another take on The Symbolism in the Biden Inaugural Painting.
Here’s a closer look at that painting:
The First and Second Couples then walked to another part of the rotunda, where Sen. Mitch McConnell addressed them, while standing between statues of Ulysses S. Grant (left), 1899, by Franklin Simmons, and Abraham Lincoln, 1871, by Vinnie Ream:
As it happened, Harold Holzer, a noted Lincoln scholar (better known to art journalists as the former senior vice president for public affairs at the Metropolitan Museum), last weekend published (as one of the Wall Street Journal‘s weekly “Masterpiece” columns) a gracefully written appraisal of Ream’s controversial depiction of Lincoln (seen above, upstaging McConnell’s wife, Elaine Chao, who was Secretary of Transportation under Biden’s predecessor).
Now director of Roosevelt House at Hunter College in New York, Harold wrote this about Ream’s “Lincoln”:
It was not difficult to imagine the gracefully extended arm that once seemed to beckon onlookers now gesturing, at least in the selfies taken by rioters, for a halt to the madness.
Painful as it was to see an icon endangered by a crush of unrestrained insurrectionists, this particular one is no stranger to disrespect. Since its unveiling, it has been ridiculed, moved and damaged. Whether it is a treasure or a novelty has long remained unsettled. Its recent close call suggests the time is ripe for a positive reassessment.
Another “good sign” (like Duncanson’s rainbow) was the gleaming floor seen in today’s images of the Capitol Rotunda, expertly buffed after having been so roughly buffeted. Would that our tattered national fabric could be so easily restored.
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