The National Mall

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This post is one in a series of Ten 3-Mile Walks Around Washington, DC.  The pins in the map below show where I stopped to take pictures but also serve to outline the route!

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As you can see from the map, this walk is really the “lower half” of the National Mall.  It covers many of the best sites, a few hidden gems and lesser known monuments.

The walk begins at about the corner of 14th and Independence.  This is roughly the mid-point of the National Mall.  Behind you is a great view of the “museum” half of the Mall.   (From left to right, the Old Post Office on Pennsylvania Ave, The Museum of American History, and the domed Museum of Natural History.)

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The first monument encountered is a biggie, the Washington Monument.  “The Monument” as it is known locally is in view during this entire walk and on this very windy winter day, the flags surrounding it were rippling so hard it sounded like a rushing river.

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The monument shows white edges on the corners.  This is mortar where it underwent repairs from the 2011 earthquake that struck the DC area.  The monument was closed and encased in scaffolding for 2 1/2 years while the repairs were done.

The next monument encountered is the National World War II Memorial.  At the time of this walk it was still winter and the fountain was drained.  This is a beautiful monument and in my opinion really captures the age and character of that generation.  I will return and add photos when the fountain is operating.  The monument has a section for each state, a half dedicated to the Atlantic theater, and one to the Pacific.  It is solemn and impressive.

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The World War II Memorial is at one end of the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool, with the Lincoln Memorial at the other end.  The  pool is currently drained for restoration.  It looked like a giant roller-rink and offered little in the way of reflection!

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As you walk toward the Lincoln Memorial, to your left you will see a domed gazebo.  This is the DC War Memorial.  It is a permanent record honoring the residents of the District of Columbia who gave their lives in military service to the country.

IMG_2860  Just before you get to the Lincoln Memorial, off to the left is the Korean War Veterans Memorial.  This is a very impressive memorial.  A Platoon of soldiers, laden with gear, wearing rain ponchos, spread out in a scouting formation marching through the brush.  At almost every angle at least one of them is looking at you, concerned, nervous.  The detail is inspiring and the backdrop is a black marble wall with faces, names, and a reflection of the Washington Monument.  This memorial deserves a post of its own one day.

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The next stop is one of the most popular monuments in all of Washington, DC.  The Lincoln Memorial, the backdrop for Martin Luther King, Jr’s famous ‘I have a Dream” speech, and memorial to one of our most beloved presidents.  I have lived in this area for over 30 years and it never gets old.  My children go here for Prom pictures, I ride my bike here on weekends, and always, it is packed with visitors.

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The view that Lincoln has from his chair is usually awe-inspiring and literally reflective.  On this day, however, with the water drained from the Reflecting Pool, it was lacking something.  At the top of this post I have included what I consider to be one of the finest photographs I have ever taken.  This past fall I was here with a friend at sunset as I watched two Buddhist monks playing tourist.  The colors in the picture, the sunlight on the Washington Monument, and the moment just all came together.  That is what Lincoln sees from his chair.

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The Lincoln Memorial is the farthest point from the beginning of the walk.  From there head up the other side of the Reflecting Pool.  Right before you get to the Vietnam Memorial is a sculpture called The Three Soldiers.  Officially part of the Vietnam Memorial, this is a striking piece of art and tribute to American Soldiers.  The uniforms they wear are reflective of all branches of the service.  The work is bronze but still shows color within the uniforms.  The soldiers look, with despair, at the solemn wall that is the Vietnam Memorial.

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The Vietnam Memorial, like the World War II Memorial is reflective of its generation.  Dark and filled with conflict, the black marble wall is built into the ground and tapers at each end to grade.  On it are the names of the fallen, over 50,000 of them.  As you walk through, veterans act as docents, people leave flowers, and etch the names of loved ones by tracing over the name with pencil on paper.  The reflection of the Washington Monument and the US Capitol can be seen in the memorial.  I have walked through here many times and always found it to be a moving experience.

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As you exit the Vietnam Memorial, walking toward the Washington Monument, there is a small lake and in it is a tiny island with a footbridge connecting it to the shore.  That island is a memorial to the Signers of the Declaration of Independence.

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It’s a peaceful, almost hidden spot away from all the big monuments.  The names (56 of them) are in order of the colony they represented.  One of my favorite pieces of trivia is here.  One of the signers from my home state of New Hampshire, was named Josiah Bartlett.  If you were a fan of the NBC TV Series The West Wing, you know that the President of the United States in that show was from a storied New Hampshire political family.  Though he went by Jed, his full name was Josiah Bartlett.

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Continuing the walk, now on Constitution Avenue, you arrive at a small stone house on a corner.  It looks out of place among the marble and granite monuments. The Lockkeeper’s House was used back when a good part of Constitution Ave was a canal for shipping.  There was a lock here to adjust to changes in elevation.  This Washington City Canal connected the C&O Canal to the Anacostia River and barges were towed right past the US Capitol.    I find it amusing that once donkeys pulled barges right by the front door since now you can’t park a car within miles of the place!

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As you continue up Constitution Ave you pass the most famous residential address in DC, 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.  This view of the Whitehouse is across the Ellipse and during Christmas time the National Christmas tree which the president ceremoniously lights would be right in the center of this frame.  Despite all the police cars, there was no incident going on, this is just the standard security around the perimeter.

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The last site on the walk is the newest museum, still under construction.  The Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American Heritage and Culture is scheduled to open in 2016, it occupies the last available space on the National Mall for a museum, right between the Museum of American History and the Washington Monument.

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The last leg of the walk is across the National Mall at 14th St.  As you cross, look left.  On this day, the setting sun was was shining on a great view of the  US Capitol, Library of Congress, and the Smithsonian Castle.

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The United States Air Force Memorial

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This post is one in a series of Ten 3-Mile Walks Around Washington, DC.  The pins in the map below show where I stopped to take pictures but also serve to outline the route!

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This route begins at the Pentagon City Mall and crosses under I-395 through a pedestrian tunnel. It skirts the Pentagon Reservation and ascends Arlington Heights along the southern edge of Arlington National Cemetery.

Built to resemble the contrails of three Air Force jets performing the “Missing Man Maneuver” for a fallen 4th pilot, the United States Air Force Memorial is a beautiful work of art, engineering marvel, and hallowed place of honor.  It is set on a hill in Arlington, VA overlooking the Pentagon and beyond that the city of Washington, DC.

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Our walk began at a shopping center, the Fashion Centre at Pentagon City, or Pentagon City Mall.  Because this walk takes you along the edge of the Pentagon Reservation, it’s difficult to park anywhere other than commercial parking.  From the mall, we entered a long pedestrian tunnel which passes under the major artery into DC, I-395.  The tunnel is surprisingly quiet and calm considering above is 9 lanes of constant heavy traffic.

I had hoped to include the 911 Pentagon Memorial in this post but recent snowstorms had closed the memorial temporarily.  I will return to that spot because it’s very beautiful and worth posting.

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As I emerged from the tunnel I immediately snapped a picture of the country’s military headquarters before seeing the small white sign that says “No Photography”.

The Pentagon, as one might imagine, is extremely secure and you are not allowed to take photographs while on the grounds of the reservation.  We quickly passed through the perimeter and out the other side toward the Air Force Memorial.  The route takes you along the southern edge of Arlington National Cemetery.  This is an older section and the stones are not uniform white tablets like the rest of the cemetery.  There is an entrance gate that leads to Patton Drive.

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The Air Force Memorial borders the southern edge of Arlington National Cemetery where the entrance gate leads to Patton Drive.

The memorial is on a hill and we walked sort of up the backside of the hill to get between the setting sun and the monument.  Armed with only the photography expertise built into an iPhone 5, I was able to capture gorgeous shots of the monument and the cityscape of Washington, DC, all bathed in golden winter sunlight.

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I just can’t get enough of these sunset pictures with their warm hues and golden light!

As we got to the top of the hill, we walked through a residential neighborhood with a small park.  There we found a piece of Arlington history I had never heard.  This tract of land, known as Freedman Village was set aside by the government at the end of the civil war to offer housing and a community for freed and escaped slaves.

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The homes on this street were modest, small homes and though they are only a mile from the Potomac River it was not an exclusive address because they butted up against an unattractive World War II era military building, the Navy Annex.  This all changed recently when the Navy Annex was torn down giving these modest homes a spectacular view!

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Until recently this empty field was the rather unattractive Navy Annex, a World War II era military building. Although I’m sure it won’t last long, the homes on the edge of this field today enjoy a spectacular view!

The Air Force Memorial is set in a large open space on the escarpment of Arlington Heights.  The lines are clean and the view is panoramic.  It is a graceful soaring monument that fits its space well from any angle, from any distance.  It it a really enjoyable experience just to be there.

The monument itself is an impressive feat of engineering.  Three spires ranging from 201 feet to 270 feet.  They are equilateral triangles coated in stainless steel, described as “asymmetrical and dynamic”.  The different heights of the three spires make the monument interesting from all angles.  High tech weighting within the spires enables the balancing act required for the forms.

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the spires are equilateral triangles coated in stainless steel.

The memorial is a place of honor, and a permanent statuary honor guard stands watch.

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The honor guard at the United States Air Force Memorial

Behind the honor guard is a black glossy marble wall depicting the core values of the Air Force.  Once again, being in the right place at the right time, I was able to capture a stunning photograph with the setting sun behind me.  In one shot I could see the wall itself and its reflection of the honor guard, the Pentagon, the Washington Monument and city of DC, and the base of the AF Memorial spires.

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Hashtag “Right Place Right Time”

As we stood admiring the memorial and the light created by the sunset, we watched a military helicopter take off from the Pentagon.  Behind it, the US Capitol, Library of Congress, and the city of Washington glimmered.  Such power, such symbolism.

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It is this face of the Pentagon that was struck on 911 by Flight 77.

The sun just about set, we headed back down the hill.  This would actually be about a 3.5 mile walk and not one we wanted to do in the dark.

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At the base of the hill I turned back to catch the silhouette of the memorial in the setting sun.  I reflected on the fact that my own father was honored by this monument.  He flew cargo planes in Viet Nam.

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It is illuminated at night and also very beautiful in the dark.  It’s a low-key monument compared to the crowds at the Lincoln Memorial or the elevator to the top of the Washington Monument; but it’s not one you should skip.

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A Walk Around the US Capitol

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Scaffolding covers the Capitol dome for a massive restoration project. The work is done at night with the help of over 700 LED lights to guide the workers.

This is the second in a series of Ten 3-Mile Walks Around Washington, DC.  Click the link to see the rest!

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This post is one in a series of Ten 3-Mile Walks Around Washington, DC. The pins in the map below show where I stopped to take pictures but also serve to outline the route!

 

This weekend my wife joined me and we walked around the US Capitol.  I have been going out just before sunset and that has been producing fantastic photos.  The soft low light of the winter sunset creates warm glowing colors and everything looks so beautiful!  Even the scaffold-encased Capitol dome looks magical with the pink light of sunset!

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The Museum of the American Indian makes a statement before you even enter it. Golden limestone was used to resemble rock formations that have been shaped by wind and water over the centuries,

We started at the southwest corner of Capitol Hill near the National Museum of the American Indian.  Dedicated to preserving and sharing the culture of native Americans, this building is one of the newest on the National Mall.  The building is made from golden limestone and is inspired from rock formations shaped by wind and water over the centuries.  It is ethereal and mystical.

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The oldest of the 4 House Office Buildings, the Cannon Building was constructed in 1908.

From there we walked up the House side of the hill, past the famous House office buildings, Cannon, Rayburn, Ford, and Longworth.  If you watch any shows based in Washington DC, House of Cards, Scandal, the West Wing, Homeland, they all feature footage from these seats of power.  You walk past benches where scenes have been filmed, past the Capitol veranda where inaugurations take place.  It’s both a powerful symbolic location and a beautiful open park at the same time.

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The Jefferson Building of the Library of Congress.

As you reach the top of the hill, the magnificent Jefferson Building of the Library of Congress comes into view.  This building is worthy of a blog post all its own.  It has a rotunda with mosaic tiled interior over the “Old Reading Room”, and a Gutenberg Bible on display.  Outside, the building is no less magnificent with elaborate sculpture, imposing columns, and entrances.

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It’s not an easy neighborhood in which to stand out.  The US Capitol is across the street and the Supreme Court is next door! Not a problem, however, for the ornate architecture of the Library of Congress.

Next to the Library of Congress is the Supreme Court with its imposing steps, visually setting the court above all else.  Here, on a casual walk, is the origin of Brown vs. Board of Education, Roe v Wade, and Bush v Gore to name just a few landmark cases!

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Part of the Supreme Court’s design is the large imposing steps that set the court on a higher plane, symbolically putting it above all else.

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The US Supreme Court

As you pass the Supreme Court you round the corner to the Senate side.  We had an unseasonably warm day in the mid 60’s and there were tons of people out jogging, with strollers, on bikes, and just sight seeing like us.

As we headed down the hill the sun was beginning to set.  We discovered something I had never noticed before.  The Summerhouse is a small brick hexagonal grotto with a fountain and some benches inside a brick enclosure.  It’s very charming!

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This small, almost hidden brick grotto is called Summerhouse. Built into the sloping west front lawn, it is a charming spot to rest and cool off on a hot day.

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The Summerhouse on the front west lawn of the US Capitol

Built over a hundred years ago, it is simply there to be pretty and offer travelers a spot to rest and restore.  It has a decorative fountain as well as drinking fountains.

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As we reached the bottom of Capitol Hill we arrived at the massive reflecting pool.  There is also some awe-inspiring sculpture!  Giant lions on pedestals, a stately Ulysses S. Grant astride his horse, and President James Garfield all have prominent spots.  There are also two large compositions that vividly depict civil war battle scenes.

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This large sculpture is one of a pair of vivid recreations of civil war battle scenes.

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In the center of a prominent intersection at the base of Capitol Hill is a solemn sculpture honoring assassinated president James Garfield.

As we got to the reflecting pool, the sun was setting and we were just in time for some spectacular pictures.  The light was perfect!

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The I.M. Pei-designed East Wing of the National Gallery.

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The last shards of sunlight turn the Canadian Embassy pink and gold.

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The setting sun highlights the silhouettes of the Washington Monument and the Smithsonian Castle on Washington, DC’s National Mall.

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On the weekends (especially in the winter) parking on the National Mall is pretty easy.  If you pick a spot near the Museum of the American Indian and walk up the hill and around the Capitol it comes out to just about 3 miles.  There is also a metro stop called Smithsonian.  It comes up right on the Mall, but would make for a longer walk around the Capitol.

We had the good fortune of a gorgeous day, perfect sunset, and light crowds.  I felt a little guilty as my many friends in New England are battling heavy snow and arctic temperatures!

π

The US Capitol

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Scaffolding covers the Capitol dome for a massive restoration project. The work is done at night with the help of over 700 LED lights to guide the workers.

This is the second in a series of 10 DC Walks.  Click the link to see the rest!

Screen Shot 2015-02-22 at 9.03.59 AM

This post is one in a series of Ten 3-Mile Walks Around Washington, DC. The pins in the map below show where I stopped to take pictures but also serve to outline the route!

 

This weekend my wife joined me and we walked around the US Capitol.  I have been going out just before sunset and that has been producing fantastic photos.  The soft low light of the winter sunset creates warm glowing colors and everything looks so beautiful!  Even the scaffold-encased Capitol dome looks magical with the pink light of sunset!

US Capitol-03

The Museum of the American Indian makes a statement before you even enter it. Golden limestone was used to resemble rock formations that have been shaped by wind and water over the centuries,

We started at the southwest corner of Capitol Hill near the National Museum of the American Indian.  Dedicated to preserving and sharing the culture of native Americans, this building is one of the newest on the National Mall.  The building is made from golden limestone and is inspired from rock formations shaped by wind and water over the centuries.  It is ethereal and mystical.

US Capitol-06

The oldest of the 4 House Office Buildings, the Cannon Building was constructed in 1908.

From there we walked up the House side of the hill, past the famous House office buildings, Cannon, Rayburn, Ford, and Longworth.  If you watch any shows based in Washington DC, House of Cards, Scandal, the West Wing, Homeland, they all feature footage from these seats of power.  You walk past benches where scenes have been filmed, past the Capitol veranda where inaugurations take place.  It’s both a powerful symbolic location and a beautiful open park at the same time.

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The Jefferson Building of the Library of Congress.

As you reach the top of the hill, the magnificent Jefferson Building of the Library of Congress comes into view.  This building is worthy of a blog post all its own.  It has a rotunda with mosaic tiled interior over the “Old Reading Room”, and a Gutenberg Bible on display.  Outside, the building is no less magnificent with elaborate sculpture, imposing columns, and entrances.

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It’s not an easy neighborhood in which to stand out.  The US Capitol is across the street and the Supreme Court is next door! Not a problem, however, for the ornate architecture of the Library of Congress.

Next to the Library of Congress is the Supreme Court with its imposing steps, visually setting the court above all else.  Here, on a casual walk, is the origin of Brown vs. Board of Education, Roe v Wade, and Bush v Gore to name just a few landmark cases!

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Part of the Supreme Court’s design is the large imposing steps that set the court on a higher plane, symbolically putting it above all else.

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The US Supreme Court

As you pass the Supreme Court you round the corner to the Senate side.  We had an unseasonably warm day in the mid 60’s and there were tons of people out jogging, with strollers, on bikes, and just sight seeing like us.

As we headed down the hill the sun was beginning to set.  We discovered something I had never noticed before.  The Summerhouse is a small brick hexagonal grotto with a fountain and some benches inside a brick enclosure.  It’s very charming!

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This small, almost hidden brick grotto is called Summerhouse. Built into the sloping west front lawn, it is a charming spot to rest and cool off on a hot day.

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The Summerhouse on the front west lawn of the US Capitol

Built over a hundred years ago, it is simply there to be pretty and offer travelers a spot to rest and restore.  It has a decorative fountain as well as drinking fountains.

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As we reached the bottom of Capitol Hill we arrived at the massive reflecting pool.  There is also some awe-inspiring sculpture!  Giant lions on pedestals, a stately Ulysses S. Grant astride his horse, and President James Garfield all have prominent spots.  There are also two large compositions that vividly depict civil war battle scenes.

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This large sculpture is one of a pair of vivid recreations of civil war battle scenes.

US Capitol-04

In the center of a prominent intersection at the base of Capitol Hill is a solemn sculpture honoring assassinated president James Garfield.

As we got to the reflecting pool, the sun was setting and we were just in time for some spectacular pictures.  The light was perfect!

US Capitol-01

The I.M. Pei-designed East Wing of the National Gallery.

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The last shards of sunlight turn the Canadian Embassy pink and gold.

US Capitol-20

The setting sun highlights the silhouettes of the Washington Monument and the Smithsonian Castle on Washington, DC’s National Mall.

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On the weekends (especially in the winter) parking on the National Mall is pretty easy.  If you pick a spot near the Museum of the American Indian and walk up the hill and around the Capitol it comes out to just about 3 miles.  There is also a metro stop called Smithsonian.  It comes up right on the Mall, but would make for a longer walk around the Capitol.

We had the good fortune of a gorgeous day, perfect sunset, and light crowds.  I felt a little guilty as my many friends in New England are battling heavy snow and arctic temperatures!

π

The National Gallery of Art – Featuring the Only da Vinci in the United States

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Ginevra de’ Benci, c1474 oil painting on a wood panel.

Thirty-five years ago on a college semester in Paris, I visited the Louvre.  Like most tourists I made a beeline for the Mona Lisa and took a picture through the thick glass that protects her.

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Ginevra de’ Benci is painted on a wood panel and this is the back of it. It is loaded with significance, and each item depicted has multiple meanings.

I would not see another da Vinci until this past summer when I visited Poland, and saw the  Lady with an Ermine.  Very few of his works survive and most are in Europe.

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Lady with an Ermine hangs in the Wawel Castle in Krakow, Poland. When I went pictures were not allowed, so this photo is from Wikipedia.

It was in Krakow, at the Wawel Castle that I learned this fact.  Of all da Vinci’s paintings, there were only three female portraits.  A basic google search brings this into question, but I am no art expert and was not about to argue with a museum guide.  The guide said the Mona Lisa was one, Lady with an Ermine the second, and the third was called Ginevra de’ Benci and hung in the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC!

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It was here at the Wawel Castle in Krakow, Poland that I saw da Vinci’s “Lady with an Ermine”, and learned she was one of only three portraits of a woman. I also learned that the third (after the Mona Lisa) was on display in Washington, DC, 5 miles from my house!

My friend and Polish guide Radek was with me and was planning on visiting DC in the Fall so we agreed when he got there we would visit it together and join what had to be a small club of people who had seen all three.

Over the Thanksgiving holiday we visited the National Gallery.  It’s right on the National Mall, between the Capitol and the Washington Monument.  The museum has a world class collection including some of the most famous impressionist works known.

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The National Gallery of Art hosts a world class collection including this Van Gough masterpiece!

I also learned, however, that the Ginevra de’ Benci is the only painting by Leonardo da Vinci in the entire United States!  I’ve lived in the DC area for over 30 years and had no idea!  This painting is approximately 540 years old and radiates timeless beauty!

The DC painting was, for me, the best experience of the three.  The Mona Lisa constantly has a giant crowd around it and the glass case is so thick it’s hard to see the detail of the painting.  The Lady with an Ermine though strikingly beautiful, is small, and heavily guarded in a rather dark room, and again, one cannot get very close to it, nor photograph it.

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Pardon the blurry photo, this is the sign beside the painting. There’s a very interesting story about the painting including the symbolism on the back.

 

Meanwhile, in the National Gallery, you can get up very close and see the brush strokes!  The lighting is ideal and the crowds that day were nonexistent.  The painting is on a wood panel and features painting on the back as well!

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The Smithsonian National Gallery of Art is a wonderful place to visit even if you don’t see a single painting! It is a serene welcome break from the more touristy museums that surround it.

 

If you’re planning a trip to Washington, DC, I highly recommend a visit to the National Gallery.  Like the rest of the Smithsonian, it is free.  It is beautiful, peaceful, and offers a glorious place to sit and relax after enduring the Air & Space Museum, or the Museum of American History!

If you live in the DC area, I encourage you to visit the National Gallery frequently.  Visit just a single room or style and focus just on that.  It is a world class art collection with free and convenient access.

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