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~ This Gallery celebrates Hermon Atkins MacNeil, American sculptor of the Beaux Arts School. MacNeil led a generation of sculptors in capturing many fading Native American images and American history in the realism of this classic style.

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Since 2010 this website has transported viewers through the years and miles between 100’s of Hermon MacNeil’s statues & monuments throughout the USA.

For over one hundred years these sculptures have graced our parks, boulevards, and parkways; buildings, memorials, and gardens; campuses, capitols, and civic centers; museums, coinage, and private collections.

PERHAPS,  you walk or drive by one of his public sculptures daily. HERE, you can gain awareness of this great sculptor and his many works.  Maybe there are some near you! CHECK HERE!

Aug
07

Moses, Confucius, and Solon at Supreme Court

By
SuprCtEastPedMosesConfSolonHeader

CONFUCIUS ~ MOSES ~ SOLON center on MacNeil’s East Pediment

The East Pediment of the Supreme Court of the United States designed and sculpted by Hermon A. MacNeil contains the likenesses of three Lawgivers from the history of  civilization: Moses, Confucius, and Solon. According to the Office of the Curator in a public INFORMATION SHEET:

“Visitors often miss the East Pediment of the Supreme Court Building because it is located at the rear of the building. This sculptural group was designed by Hermon A. MacNeil (1866 – 1947), an artist who studied under the masters of classical architecture and design. Cass Gilbert (1867 – 1934), the building’s architect, worked closely with MacNeil from 1932 to 1934 to create the thirteen symmetrically balanced allegorical figures. MacNeil submitted the following description of his work to the Supreme Court Building Commission:”

“Law as an element of civilization was normally and naturally derived or inherited in this country from former civilizations. The “Eastern Pediment” of the Supreme Court Building suggests therefore the treatment of such fundamental laws and precepts as are derived from the East.

  • Moses, Confucius and Solon are chosen as representing three great civilizations and form the central group of this Pediment.
  • Flanking this central group – left – is the symbolical figure bearing the means of enforcing the law. On the right a group tempering justice with mercy, allegorically treated. The “Youth” is brought into both these groups to suggest the “Carrying on” of civilization through the knowledge imbibed of right and wrong.

The next two figures with shields;

  • Left – The settlement of disputes between states through enlightened judgment.
  • Right – Maritime and other large functions of the Supreme Court in protection of the United States.

The last figures:

May 16, 1932 Note regarding the East Pediment Inscription The text, in the hand of Charles Evans Hughes, reads, I rather prefer “Justice the Guardian of Liberty”

The inscription on the East Pediment – Justice the Guardian of Liberty – is one of the few decisions regarding the architecture of the building that was made directly by one of the Justices. On May 2,1932, David Lynn, the Architect of the Capitol, sent Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes a letter with Cass Gilbert’s suggestions for the East and West Pediment inscriptions. The Chief Justice agreed with the suggested inscription for the West Pediment, Equal Justice Under Law, but did not like the one proposed for the East Pediment, Equal Justice is the Foundation of Liberty. Chief Justice Hughes sent a note (below) with a suggestion for a different inscription to Justice Willis Van Devanter, the only Justice beside Hughes and his predecessor, Chief Justice William Howard Taft, to serve on the Supreme Court Building Commission. Justice Van Devanter responded with a succinct reply: “Good (W.V.)” A few days later, the Chief Justice formally answered Lynn’s request by providing the alternate inscription, stating simply “We think that the inscription for the East Portico can be improved.”

The May 16, 1932 Note regarding the East Pediment Inscription written in the hand of Charles Evans Hughes, reads, I rather prefer “Justice the Guardian of Liberty”

The East Pediment by Hermon A. MacNeil – Office of the Curator • Supreme Court of the United States

Source: Office of the Curator, Supreme Court of the United States – Updated: 5/22/2003

For additional critical discussion on the Supreme Court Building sculptures related to Moses as a law giver see:

http://www.snopes.com/politics/religion/capital.asp

Visit the HA MacNeil‘s “Justice The Guardian of Liberty” at the East Pediment of the Supreme Court Building in Washington, D.C. [mappress]

Comments

  1. Dear Mr. Robert V. Ritter,
    Thank You for the copy of your letter and your comment sent to the website https://HermonAtkinsMacNeil.com/
    I have approved your comment. It will appear at the posting you referenced: Moses, Confucius, and Solon at Supreme Court, along with this response.

    My website references only the sculptures of Hermon Atkins MacNeil. He sculpted the East Pediment at the top of the rear outside wall of the US Supreme Court Building.
    I have never seen the public media show pictures of the East Pediment with MacNeil’s eleven figures there. The West Pediment at the front is the familiar image shown for the Building.

    MacNeil’s depiction of Moses includes two stone tablets. Those tablets are blank, thus symbolic. To my knowledge that is how the sculptor chose to present them.

    Your letter discusses the figures in the frieze “inside” of the supreme court I have neither seen or researched those sculptures.
    Therefore, I am unable to offer a cogent comment on those figures. Plus, my Hebrew translation skills of fifty-years ago are more than a little rusty.

    To my understanding, Cass Gilbert had and gave to his sculptors a wide liberty in creating their works.
    The Supreme Court website describes the East Pediment in this way:
    https://www.supremecourt.gov/about/buildingfeatures.aspx
    Too often, visitors do not see the corresponding pediment and columns on the east side. Here the sculpture group is by Hermon A. MacNeil, and the marble figures represent great lawgivers, Moses, Confucius, and Solon, flanked by symbolic groups representing Means of Enforcing the Law, Tempering Justice with Mercy, Settlement of Disputes Between States, and Maritime and other functions of the Supreme Court. The architrave bears the legend: “Justice the Guardian of Liberty.”

    Again thank you for your courtesy and visit to the website. It is a virtual gallery of the life work of my Great Uncle, Hermon Atkins MacNeil.
    Daniel Neil Leininger,
    Webmaster

  2. Mr. Sir — As a courtesy, I would like to ask you please review a letter I wrote the Senate Judiciary concerning the Moses figure on the Supreme Court’s South Wall Frieze. The letter is available at

    http://www.eaglesmonuments.com/docs/Ritter_&_Segol_letter_to_Sen-Graham_CJ-Roberts_J-Barrett_10-19-2020.pdf

    I am interested in your thoughts about my analysis of the Moses figure and not about my comments regarding Senator Cruz.

    Sincerely, Bob Ritter

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