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Title Justice
Artist/Maker Carlo Franzoni ( 1788   -   1819 )  
Date 1817
Medium Plaster
Dimensions h. 53.25 x w. 127.25 in. (h. 135.3 x w. 323.2 cm)
Credit Line U.S. Senate Collection
Accession Number 25.00001.000

  • Object Description
  • After the British burned the U.S. Capitol on August 24, 1814, architect Benjamin Henry Latrobe immediately oversaw reconstruction efforts. As part of this project, he engaged Italian sculptor Carlo Franzoni to create the only piece of permanent decoration in the new Supreme Court Chamber: a relief sculpture of Justice. The piece was to be mounted directly opposite the bench and the seats of the justices.

    Two preliminary sketches exist for the figure of Justice, but it is unknown whether they date from before or after the damage to the building by the British. The sketches depict some of the same iconographic details seen in the Justice relief, although the final figure and composition are different. The drawings appear to be by either Giuseppe or Carlo Franzoni. Giuseppe, Carlo’s older brother, had actually been engaged by Latrobe to model Justice for the pre-fire Capitol in 1809. It is not known if Giuseppe Franzoni’s Justice was ever completed, because that version of the Supreme Court Chamber, along with the Senate and House Chambers, was destroyed. Giuseppe Franzoni died suddenly in 1815; the following year, Carlo arrived from Italy to work on the Capitol.

    Carlo Franzoni apparently began executing the relief of Justice shortly after his arrival, because payments were made to various models, beginning in 1816, for sitting for the sculpture. Mary Ann Warren and Eliza Wade each received a payment of $25, while Prince Williams received $10 “for my boy Henry sitting 10 times for Mr. Franzoni.” It is unknown why Franzoni used three models, as only the figures of Justice and the Genius appear in the final composition. The plaster frieze was completed in 1817 and placed in a semicircular lunette on the west wall of the Supreme Court. The work has yet to be restored to its original appearance, although a preliminary physical investigation indicates the early presence of jade green and royal blue paint instead of the current azure background coloring.

    Franzoni also produced the brilliantly imaginative and successful Car of History for the House of Representatives. The deserved fame of this work and its much more prominent location have unfortunately diminished the reputation of Justice. Charles E. Fairman, curator of the Capitol in the early 20th century, even insinuated that the relief might not be by Franzoni. A comparison of the distinctive and confident modeling of the drapery in the two works, however, leaves little doubt that one artist is responsible for both. Carlo Franzoni died unexpectedly at the age of 30 on May 12, 1819, only three years after arriving in the United States. His remains, and those of his brother Giuseppe, are interred in Oak Hill Cemetery, in Washington, D.C.

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