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Then & Now Text Version

Elaborate Drapery

Elaborate Drapery

Fabric bunting, a traditional construct in art, allows an artist to create a dramatic threshold into the primary scene. A striking patriotic tone is set in Henry Clay in the U.S. Senate with the billowing "stars and stripes" silk. Staunton took artistic license here, for it is crimson-colored fabric that crowns the vice president's dais.


Puddingstone Pilasters

Puddingstone Pilasters

The Old Senate Chamber's puddingstone marble pilasters are one of its most distinctive features. A hint of this unique marble pattern, along with the white marble capital, is suggested in the background of the painting.


Old Senate Chamber Columns

Old Senate Chamber Columns

Staunton recreates the architectural elements of the Old Senate Chamber with impressive accuracy. Faithfully represented in the painting is one of the fluted, gold-tone, cast iron columns that supports the upper level visitor gallery. Today these columns are reproductions, based upon surviving prints by 19th-century artists who sketched scenes in the Old Senate Chamber.


Chamber Desk Assignment

Chamber Desk Assignment

Seating assignment is a long standing Senate tradition, and the artist captures its nuances. Both Clay and Seward are seen in the back of the Chamber, as Clay preferred. As a new senator, Seward relinquished his designated seat to "oblige Mr. Clay" and both men enjoyed the advantages, removed from the noisy main door and convenient to the private entrance to confer with visitors.


Senate Chamber Desks

Senate Chamber Desks

Until the first Senate office building opened in 1909, senators used the Chamber desks as their primary working space. Forty-eight desks were made by Thomas Constantine in 1819 after the original set was destroyed in 1814 when the British burned the Capitol. By the mid 1800s, mahogany bookshelves had been installed on the desks, as documented in Staunton's painting.


Senate Chamber Chairs

Senate Chamber Chairs

Information about the original upholstery for Senate Chamber chairs is scarce. Like the Senate desks, the chairs were built by Thomas Constantine in 1819. This monumental painting provides one of our rare glimpses at upholstery style and color belonging to the Chamber chairs during the first half of the 19th century. Click for more information about Senate Chamber chairs.


Old Senate Chamber Risers

Old Senate Chamber Risers

Little is known about the ornamentation of the original risers in the Senate's early chamber. The existing wooden reproductions are based on an 1851 painting of the room by G.P.A. Healy. Staunton's painting presents a new possibility, as his work shows elaborate metal grillwork on the risers that has a pattern of patriotic shields. Further research will be necessary.


Senate Journals

Senate Journals

Article 1, Section 5 of the Constitution provides that "Each House shall keep a journal of its proceedings, and from time to time publish the same."


Old Senate Chamber Carpet

Old Senate Chamber Carpet

The red carpet with gold stars depicted in Staunton's painting is a distinctive Brussels floor covering, evident in many 19th-century engravings of the Old Senate Chamber. Interestingly, the carpet's star pattern varies in these many renditions, which may be due to its frequent changing necessitated by senators' notorious use of tobacco and poor aim at the spittoons.


Secondary Entrance to the Chamber

Secondary Entrance to the Chamber

Henry Clay preferred to take a seat near the Chamber's secondary entrance, to make conferring with visitors easier. Staunton records this rear portion of the Chamber: the marble door frame, gold-tone column, puddingstone pilaster, and crown molding provide a correct perspective of this room.