Posts Tagged ‘E. Barrett Prettyman United States Courthouse’

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The Trylon of Freedom

During this lunchtime bike ride I came across an unusual free-standing column in the plaza in front of the E. Barrett Prettyman United States Courthouse, located on Constitution Avenue east of John Marshall Park, between 3rd and 4th Streets (MAP), not far from the Sir William Blackstone Statue and directly across the street from The George Gordon Meade Memorial in Downtown D.C.

The 24-foot three-sided granite obelisk is entitled The Trylon of Freedom, and  was dedicated along with the courthouse in 1954.  The work was designed by Carl Paul Jennewein, a German-born American sculptor.  Best known for sculpting architectural elements in buildings, his work appears throughout the United States.  Locally, Jennewein’s works include two panels in The White House, sculptures in the Robert F. Kennedy Department of Justice building, monumental figures in the Rayburn House Office Building, The Darlington Memorial Fountain, and monumental eagles at the entrance to Arlington National Cemetery and on the Arlington Memorial Bridge.

The Trylon of Freedom features base relief representations of the freedoms exemplified by the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, with the three sides symbolically representing the
the division of power among the three branches of the Federal government: legislative, judicial and executive.

The southwest side represents the executive branch and depicts freedom of the press, speech and religion.  It is adorned with relief carvings of a men at work on a printing press to illustrate the right to freedom of press; a man giving a speech to illustrate the right to freedom of speech; and a woman kneeling in prayer and a man standing in front of a cross to illustrate freedom of religion.

The southeast side, which represents the legislative branch, is adorned with relief carvings of a courtroom with a defendant standing before a judge and jury to illustrate the right to trial by jury; a man mediating between a prisoner and his executioner to illustrate protection against cruel and unusual punishment; and a wharf with confiscated goods to illustrate illegal search and seizure.

And finally, the north side represents the judicial branch and is adorned with a relief carving of the Great Seal of the United States, and is inscribed with quotes from the Declaration of Independence, the Preamble to the Constitution and Article V of the Bill of Rights.  The inscriptions read, “We hold these truths to be self-evident. That all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty & the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.  [Declaration of Independence]; “We the people of the United States in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves & our posterity, do ordain & establish this constitution for the United States of America.” [Preamble to the Constitution], and; “No person shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property without the due process of law.”  [Article V of the Bill or Rights]

Interestingly, the Federal courthouse where the Trylon of Freedom is located was renamed in 1997 in honor of E. Barrett Prettyman, the former Chief Judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.  And it was Prettyman who 43 years earlier had advocated for the installation of the artwork in front of the new courthouse.

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Sir William Blackstone Statue

Being on leave from work for the past several weeks, first for the holidays and then unexpectedly for personal reasons, has made me miss my lunchtime excursions to explore the city.  But I am back in the office now, and on my first outing of the new year I encountered a statue located in front of but off to the side near the United States Courthouse.  That statue is of William Blackstone, and like many of the statues and memorials here in D.C. it has an interesting backstory.

Sir William Blackstone was an English jurist, judge and politician of the eighteenth century who is best known for writing a four-volume work on English law. These volumes, known as Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Laws of England, would not only dominate the common law legal system for more than a century, but also help shape America’s Declaration of Independence and Constitution, and have a substantial influence in American law.  His Commentaries would also influence the likes of  Alexander Hamilton, John Marshall, John Adams, and Abraham Lincoln.  And to this day, his Commentaries still continue to be cited in Supreme Court decisions.

In the early 1920’s the American Bar Association presented a sculpture of Blackstone to the English Bar Association.  The gift, however, was too tall to be placed in the Royal Courts of Justice.  The sculpture, designed by American artist Paul Wayland Bartlett, was later cast in Europe and the statue was presented back to the United States for display.

The bronze statue is a nine-foot standing portrait of Blackstone dressed in his judicial robes and long curly wig, and holding a copy of his legal publication entitled “Commentaries” in his left hand.  It is elevated on a granite base.  Congress approved the placement of the sculpture in 1943, and appropriated $10,000 for the installation.  It was installed later that year under the authority of the National Park Service.  The statue is on the grounds of the E. Barrett Prettyman United States Courthouse, at 333 Pennsylvania Avenue (MAP) in northwest D.C.’s Judiciary Square neighborhood.

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[Click on the photos to view the full-size versions]