Corridors and Speaker’s Lobby
Completed in 1857, the Capitol extension—with its marble
floors, bronze staircases, and frescoed ceilings—added to the stately
atmosphere of the House. The ornate Speaker’s Lobby,
behind the doors flanking the Speaker’s rostrum, has huge windows that
face south and open onto a balcony. The lobby, where Representatives
gather to discuss issues and current events, was originally divided into
offices and a hallway. In the 1870s, the House knocked out walls to
improve ventilation, creating one grand, airy space.
In the nineteenth century, citizens would meet their Representatives
near the Speaker’s Lobby to advocate for a cause or bill. This practice
is now called lobbying.
The service of former Speakers of the House is commemorated with portraits displayed in the Speaker’s Lobby and adjoining Members’ staircase.
This tradition began in 1852, when artist Giuseppe Fagnani donated his portrait of Henry Clay in remembrance of the former Speaker’s death.
In 1891, supporters of legendary Speaker Thomas Brackett Reed
commissioned a portrait by John Singer Sargent, the most prominent
American portraitist of his day. The contrast of Reed’s renowned wit and
his “impassive and inward turned eye,” as Sargent described it, made
this work a particular challenge.
Bronze Stair Railing
The Members’ staircase, built in 1857, provides a
speedy route from the Speaker’s Lobby to committee rooms on the first
floor of the Capitol. Sculptor Edmond Baudin took great pains with the
figures in the bronze railings; a deer he used as a model lived in his
studio for three weeks.
Images courtesy of the Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives