This pair of bronze vases, which artist Horatio Stone entitled "Ecce Homo" and "Freedom," have been variously referred to as "Philosophy" and "Invention," or more simply as the Federal Vases. They are part of a group of three; the third, larger vase, entitled "Republic," is located at the Pomona College Montgomery Art Gallery in Claremont, California. Collectively, they suggest that American democracy draws its strength from a moral foundation coupled with native ingenuity.
Stone apparently conceived this unusual sculptural ensemble around 1868, specifically for display at the U.S. Capitol to reinforce the concept of American stability and unity in the wake of the Civil War. These vases, each 34½ inches tall and 15 inches in diameter, convey their message through a procession of low-relief figures, inscriptions and recognizable details, such as the telegraph machine and views of the Capitol dome, before and after the Capitol extension.
The vase referred to as "Philosophy" in the U.S. Capitol.
The vase referred to as Philosophy depicts the evolution of ethical thought and celebrates Greek philosophers as well as the artistic contributions of poets, musicians and sculptors to cultural development. The figures are identified in the inscription: "I. PROMETEUS/II. ORPHEUS/II. HOMER/IV. ARISTIDES/V. ANAXAGORAS/VI. PHIDIAS/VII. SOCRATES/VII. ECCE HOMO." The frieze begins with the mythological figure of Prometheus and the vulture, signifying remorse for stealing the celestial fire; Orpheus with his lyre; and the epic poet Homer. Athenian statesman Aristedes, known as "the Just," is followed by Anaxagoras, who brought philosophy to Athens, and the great Athenian sculptor Phidias, who adorned the Parthenon. Socrates, who embodies Truth, and an ecce homo depiction of Jesus complete the progression.
The vase referred to as "Invention" in the U.S. Capitol.
In the Invention vase, Freedom is personified by a male figure wearing a liberty cap, a motif that is repeated throughout the relief. The narrative begins as he receives the lamp full of the sacred oil of knowledge from Minerva, the goddess of Wisdom. Freedom then embarks on his metaphorical journey, in which he receives symbolic gifts from three leading American inventors: Benjamin Franklin, who presents him with a key, referencing the discovery of electricity; Robert Fulton, who offers his design for the steamboat; and Samuel F. B. Morse, who demonstrates the electric telegraph. The inscription on the vase reads "I. A SCIENCE/II. FREEDOM/III. FREEDOM/IV. FRANKLIN/V. FREEDOM/VI. FULTON/VII. FREEDOM/VIII. MORSE."
The third, larger and more elaborate vase, Republic, depicts George Washington along with President Abraham Lincoln, Civil War Admiral David G. Farragut, Chief Justice John Marshall and newly elected President Ulysses S. Grant, surrounded by allegorical figures symbolizing Peace, Prosperity and Progress.
Apparently, as revealed in a letter that Horatio Stone wrote to his friend and legal counsel, Robert J. Stevens, the artist first developed these figural processions to adorn the walls of the east and west Capitol porticoes. Because the completed Capitol extension did not provide the proper architectural opportunity, Stone transferred his concept to free-standing vases, recasting the traditional bacchanal imagery found on Etruscan and Greek vases into a commemorative historical narrative. The amount of $10,000 was included for the vases in the 1870 congressional appropriation bill, but Stone did not sign a contract for the work. He completed the sculptures and had them cast in bronze by the Robert Wood Foundry in Philadelphia in 1871; however, by that time the money had reverted to the treasury. Confronted with a lien on the vases, Stone sought the help of his patron, the engineer John Chipman Hoadley, who covered his foundry debt and brought the vases to Washington, D.C., where they were placed on temporary public view. According to the National Republican of December 16, 1871, Ecce Homo and Freedom were displayed "in the east corner of the new hall of the House of Representatives." After Stone's sudden death in 1875, ownership of the vases reverted to Hoadley. Hoadley himself died in 1886, and in 1887 a public subscription raised funds to present all three vases to the Boston Art Club, which sold them in 1939 to a California collector.
In 2015 the vases were offered for exhibit in the U.S. Capitol by their owners, Daniel and Mathew Wolf, in honor of their sister, the Honorable Diane R. Wolf. With the approval of the Joint Committee on the Library, the vases were accepted and placed on display atop specially designed sandstone pedestals in the east front vestibule of the Rotunda.
Horatio Stone was born in Jackson, New York, in 1808. Stone's attempts at woodcarving as a young boy showed his early interest in sculpture, but he left home as young man to study medicine. In the mid- to late 1840s, he closed his practice and moved to Washington, D.C., to focus on sculpture. He became interested in the decoration of the Capitol as a founder and president of the Washington Art Association, which evolved into the National Art Association. In 1858, the Association petitioned Congress for the formation of an art commission to oversee the acquisition of art for the Capitol; the commission existed for only one year. Stone maintained studios in Washington, including, for a time, a room in the Capitol, and worked on his sculpture in Italy. He sculpted three statues for the Capitol: John Hancock (1861), Alexander Hamilton (1868) and Edward Dickinson Baker (1876). He died in Carrara, Italy, in 1875.