James Madison Papers

To James Madison from John P. Van Ness and Richard Bland Lee, 2 August 1815

From John P. Van Ness and Richard Bland Lee

Office of the Commissioners of the
Public Buildings, Washn
. 2. Aug. 1815


Having determined to send Mr. Andrei in the Corvette John Adams to the Mediterranean for the purpose of being landed at Barcelona in Spain, to be thence conveyed to Leghorn & for which the necessary orders, pursuant to your instructions have been given by the Secretary of the Navy, it has occurred to us that it might be found practicable consistent with the public service, to send one of the public vessels with Mr. Andrei at once to Leghorn & that such vessel might remain there two or three weeks, to recieve, if to be obtained, three other Artists whom Mr. Latrobe deems necessary to the speedy completion of the Capitol—and that it might also be practicable to send one of the public vessels to Leghorn to take on board there on the 1st. April next, the Capitals, which we are assured will then be certainly finished & Mr. Andrei & his family, to bring them to this city.1

The Secretary of the Navy Considers such a step as a deviation from his duty, except he shall recieve your express order. We have supposed it probable that circumstances might exist in the Mediterranean, which would enable the commandant of the squadron to execute these objects without loss or injury to the public service. Indeed the Secretary himself suggests that the John Adams or Alert (store ships) might possibly be one of them spared for these purposes.

An order might be drawn so as to direct the commandant of the Squadron, in case it could be done without too much inconvenience or injury to the public service, to execute these objects. We remain with sentiments of very high consideration Your Obt. Sts

John P. Van Ness Richard Bland Lee

Letterbook copy (DNA: RG 42, Records of the Commissioners Appointed to Supervise the Repair or Rebuilding of the Public Buildings in Washington, Letters Sent).

1Giovanni Andrei (1770–1824), a native of Carrara, Italy, was recruited by Philip Mazzei as a sculptor for the U.S. Capitol and arrived in the United States in 1806. He carved the capitals for the House of Representatives’ chamber in place, a slow and expensive process, and this still-unfinished work was destroyed by fire when the British invaded Washington in August 1814. Architect of the Capitol Benjamin Henry Latrobe suggested that the capitals could be replaced more quickly and cheaply by having new ones carved in Italy under Andrei’s supervision. The commissioners’ 8 Aug. 1815 instructions for Andrei’s trip stated that a U.S. Navy ship would convey him from Barcelona to Leghorn. They also included the strict injunction that the work, now encompassing capitals for the Senate chamber and President’s House as well, be finished by 1 Apr. 1816. Andrei did not return to the United States until June 1817, but he brought the specified capitals plus eight others ordered in the meantime to implement a change in the Senate chamber design. In addition, he had recruited and was accompanied by two stoneworkers: Francisco Iardella and Carlo Franzoni, brother of the Capitol sculptor Giuseppe Franzoni, who had died in April 1815. Andrei continued his work on the Capitol sculptures until his death (Charles E. Fairman, comp., Works of Art in the United States Capitol Building, Including Biographies of the Artists, S. Doc. No. 63–169, at 7 [1913]; William C. Allen, History of the United States Capitol: A Chronicle of Design, Construction, and Politics, S. Doc. No. 106–29, at 65, 105–6, 119 [2001]).

Index Entries