United States Supreme Court Building

Cass Gilbert

West side: main entrance, facing the U. S. Capitol--seen in shadow in the morning

Here the main temple front, based on classical architecture (see, for example, the Parthenon) is flanked by horizontal wings. Steps lead up to the terrace (100 feet wide). Flanking these steps is a pair of marble candelabra with carved allegorical panels.
The terrace is made up of gray and white marble in a pattern of circles and squares, reminiscent of the floor in the Pantheon in Rome. The building complex is constructed of gleaming white Vermont marble, almost blindingly reflective in the sunlight. A full-story staircase leads to the entrance. On each side of the staircase allegorical figures by the sculptor James Earle Fraser comment on the law. On the left, the Contemplation of Justice is represented by a female figure while on the right a male figure represents the Guardian or Authority of Law.
The portico is supported by 16 columns in "Gilbert's American variant of the Corinthian order where heraldic eagles are set between splayed volutes" (Scott and Lee 138). The entrance portal on the west has bronze doors, each of which weigh six and half tons. The door panels, sculpted by John Donnelly, Jr., illustrate the history of the law throughout the world.

West pediment

According to Pamela Scott and Antoinette Lee, "in the pediment, Robert Aitken's central sculptural figures represent Liberty Enthroned Guarded by Order and Authority. They are attended by six allegorical figures symbolic of Counsel and Research who were modeled after Americans responsible for bringing the Sureme Court and its quarters into being, although they are all shown in Roman garb" (138). The inscription reads: "Equal Justice under Law."

Center: side; right: back (east temple facade)

The side wings have regularly spaced thin unfluted Ionic pilasters and unframed windows with low-relief panels of garlands above them. The flat decorative treatment of the side wings contrasts with the more sculptural temple block.

East pediment by Herman A. McNeil

The marble lawgivers represented in the center are Moses, Confucius, and Solon. Below the pediment the inscription reads: "Justice the Guardian of Liberty." The Chief Justice's offices are immediately behind this portico. See this site for more information.

Work Cited: Pamela Scott and Antoinette J. Lee. Buildings of the District of Columbia. New York: Oxford UP, 1993.

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© 2002 Mary Ann Sullivan. I have photographed (on site), scanned, and manipulated all the images on these pages. Please feel free to use them for personal or educational purposes. They are not available for commercial purposes.

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