This work of art is “View of Washington DC”, which displayed a panoramic view of the city of Washington focusing on architecture and American social life in 1852. The artist who produced this lithograph is Edward Sachse (1804-1873), who was born in Germany, the country where he specialized in printmaking, graphic design, topography and cartography. In 1848, E. Sachse moved to United States where he designed many works that portray some of the most important places of the country.
Washington D.C, officially called District of Columbia, was founded on July 16th 1790 by the Congress of the United States with the aim of being a place to meet and transact the business of government. They decided to build it there because due to the Potomac River watershed, it was going to be a good place for trade. In this way, few years later they decided that the capital was going to be established there. The president hired the French architect Pierre L’Enfante to design a glorious capital like Paris.
This picture shows a part of the federal capital of the United States with a variety of colors. This colorfulness enables us to differentiate the diverse parts that make up this area as the built zone, the river, the big green area and the hill. In this last one, we find the main monument, the Capitol. In this last part, we can also appreciate the inhabitants’ activities, above all the rich and the middle classes who were dedicated to those activities that required a certain level of education, and therefore they had access to the best services and resources.
Thus, Washington D.C is divided into quadrants which center is the Capitol, monument that is the main focus of the painting. The Capitol, located higher than the rest, was built by the architect Charles Walter and General Montgomery Meigs. This important building is made up of a central area called “Rotonda”. The Rotonda, which is formed by a huge dome and galleries, is a ceremonial space where, from the time of Abraham Lincoln, are effected state funerals for Presidents, members of Congress, military heroes and other prominent citizens. Furthermore, The Capitol is formed by two side buildings. The right part corresponds to the Senate, and the left part to the House of Representatives. On The Capitol, Congress meets to draft laws of the nation. It is also where presidents take office and they pronounced his speeches about the state of the Union. During more than two centuries, the Capitol has grown and new wings have been built because of the addition of new states.
Taking a look at the image, if we go down the hill we find the National Mall, a principal avenue that separates the area in two parts. On both sides of the National Mall we find a green area full of trees and open spaces where workers took the opportunity to relax and sunbathe. Next to the green areas, we find a zone of buildings which layout is regular and dispersed in the left and irregular and concentrated in the right. Finally, if we focus on the area of the left, we appreciate the Washington Monument, which is a 169 meters obelisk that was built by Robert Mills, and the Potomac River. The latter is used economically as potable water supply, trade zone or area of battle and as a means of communication between the different peoples who dwell along it.
If we compare this picture with the view that we can see nowadays, we appreciate some differences. For example, the National Mall has shifted to the left so nowadays it lies just between the Capitol and the Washington Monument. One of the reasons that have caused this is the disappearance of the river channel that was surrounding the monument. Furthermore nowadays, bordering the National Mall, the largest museum complex in the world (the Smithsonian Institution) is located. Another difference is the increase of human elements, that is, the construction of parallel roads and buildings, which are arranged with an open weave and a regular layout in the area.
Currently, the federal capital is a highly political and residential center. All economic activities revolve around the administration, diplomacy and trade. This is because it contains the headquarters of several international financial and political organizations. It is also a major center of touristic activities due to the great amount of museums and famous monuments that it has. That is why there are tourists and business people throughout all the year.
Inés Bergad Granados