Diplomatic Reception Rooms

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Making Our Mark: Establishing a New Logo for the Diplomatic Reception Rooms

By: Bri Brophy , Brand Manager and  |  November 5, 2021
Diplomatic Reception Rooms seal

We are so pleased to introduce to you the “new” Diplomatic Reception Rooms. Whether you are an old friend or just discovering us, our online presence and the brand that we are unveiling represent an exciting new beginning for the DRRs. We proudly present to you our logo mark, sourced from the architecture of our historic Treaty Room.

The basis of our mark is a twelve-pointed star called the Caput Mundi, found in the physical center of the Diplomatic Reception Rooms and the formal entrance to the Office of the Secretary of State. Architect Allan Greenberg drew his inspiration for the Treaty Room from Ancient Rome and the Italian Renaissance, using classical motifs deeply rooted in democratic ideals to design a setting for the crucial diplomatic work that happens here.

Elliptical in form, the room’s dramatic curved walls are supported by Corinthian columns adorned with the Great Seal of the United States. Hand-carved leaves, blossoms, and seedpods of North American flora were inspired by Benjamin Latrobe’s designs for the United States Capitol Building. The focal point of the Treaty Room, however, is the pattern of the inlaid floor. Rendered in stained maple, ebony, and mahogany, it is a striking and conspicuous graphic statement.

The Treaty Room of the Diplomatic Reception Rooms, U.S. Department of State, Washington, DC.
The Treaty Room of the Diplomatic Reception Rooms, U.S. Department of State, Washington, DC.

When you are in this room, you need neither a tour guide nor an art history book to know that you are standing someplace truly important. The beauty and the tremendous impact of the symbol’s scale speaks volumes. It is an intricately resolved design that uses mathematical precision to create the sense that it is moving — both inward towards its central point, and then outward again, like ripples on a pond.

The significance of this mark, though, transcends the power of its formal aesthetic impact. In turning to Rome’s Piazza del Campidoglio as a design source for the Diplomatic Reception Rooms, architect Allan Greenberg not only applied a fitting classical reference — he identified and transcribed a symbol imbued with a rich story that closely mirrors that of the State Rooms’ founding and raison d’être.

The Caput Mundi Mark

The Capitoline Hill is the highest of the Seven Hills of Rome, and served as the seat of the Roman Senate, the government base of the ancient city. Atop Capitoline Hill and situated at the center of the city of Rome is Piazza del Campidoglio, comprised of a central square and surrounding palazzi.

In 1536, the Campidoglio was in a state of neglect — a conglomeration of deteriorating buildings, unrelated in both design and purpose, situated upon what had primarily become a muddy grazing site for the city’s goats. It was upon learning that Rome was to host a visit by Emperor Charles V in 1538 that Farnese Pope Paul III commissioned Renaissance artist and architect Michelangelo Buonarroti to transform the dilapidated Campidoglio into a monumental civic center worthy of a ceremonial welcoming. The new design needed to restore Rome’s historic splendor, as well as appropriately honor its important guest.

The commission was ambitious and fraught with challenges, the greatest of which was creating visual order and unification between the existing historic structures. The piazza was trapezoidal in form. Facades of buildings did not face each other squarely, and there was a dramatic site slope to contend with. There were no perfect solutions; only a call for innovation.

A view of Capitoline Hill in Rome by Israel Silvestre (French, Nancy 1621-1691 Paris)
A view of Capitoline Hill in Rome by Israel Silvestre (French, Nancy 1621-1691 Paris), mid-to-late 17th century. Collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Central to Michelangelo’s plan was an oval-shaped design on the forecourt floor. Constructed of a radiating diamond geometry, it was a brilliant adaptation of the Renaissance circle and square, and afforded him the flexibility to create the illusion of balance where none existed. The colossal radiating oval — set atop the highest hill, exposed to the stars, and at the threshold of the Roman municipal authority — created the sense that one was standing at the top of the earth.

At the center of the Campidoglio, the twelve-pointed Caput Mundi (Latin for Head of the World) was placed as a symbol of Renaissance humanism, a cultural movement and spirit of learning that turned away from medieval scholasticism in favor of a revived interest in ancient Greek and Roman thought and writing, and in creating a citizenry that strived to be literate, eloquent, and civically engaged. Establishing an axial symmetry that would transform architecture and landscape design across Europe, Michelangelo’s Piazza del Campidoglio achieved strength through its inherent harmony, and remains a tribute to reason, order, and civic optimism.


A Parallel History

Over four centuries after Michelangelo redesigned the Piazza, the Diplomatic Reception Rooms were created.

In 1961, Clement Conger began building the unparalleled collection of fine and decorative arts that today make their home in the Diplomatic Rooms. He saw a need for America to present itself to the world in a way that honored its international friends and counterparts, and that used our nation’s most spectacular artistic achievements as a catalyst for sharing our history and cultural heritage as a sign of our diplomatic goodwill. He later wrote of the moment this grand idea was born:

“The first official event on the eighth floor was a state dinner in January 1961 in honor of Queen Frederika of Greece. The Secretary of State at the time was Christian Herter, former Governor of Massachusetts. His wife, Mary Caroline, the hostess for the event, came in during the afternoon before the dinner to see the rooms, and I escorted her through them. The longer we spent in the very modern spaces, the farther her face fell.

Our tour ended in the ladies’ lounge. The upholstery and draperies were in the electric colors then popular. The lounge looked like Hollywood’s idea of the powder room of a gangster’s moll. Mrs. Herter exclaimed that as an American she had never been so mortified. Although I should have known better than to volunteer, having spent four years in the U.S. Army, I offered then to run a public campaign to furnish the rooms in a manner befitting America’s heritage.”

Clem Conger, Founding Curator

Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, the Rooms themselves were transformed into architectural masterpieces worthy of the spectacular collection they had come to hold by that time. In direct parallel with the impetus of the Piazza, Conger’s Americana Project sought to transform a space once unfit to serve its nation into the source of that nation’s greatest pride, and a demonstration of its honor and excellence.

A Reflection of Values

Today, these State Rooms overflow with the collective stories of the countless patriots, visionaries, wordsmiths and craftsmen who defined the vision for our nation, and the architecture of this forty-two-room suite is an important extension of this: a celebration of the values that were at the heart of 18th-century America.

The Treaty Room Suite before and after its renovation.

The Caput Mundi mark found its way into the Diplomatic Reception Rooms thanks to the architect Allan Greenberg, a master of classicism working amid a sea of modernists in the 20th century. By applying this important Roman symbol, a connection was forged between the 16th and 20th century architectural masterpieces — not only in terms of formal design, but also in their shared purpose and intent. By turning to the language of art historicism, these important places were each imbued with the ancient Roman ideas that were revived during the Italian Renaissance and later again in the quest for American Independence — ideas of order, balance, clarity, reason, equality, freedom, and the potential for greatness in mankind.

If our founding fathers viewed Washington as the New Rome as indicated through their architectural expression, the floor of the Treaty Room is America’s rendition of the Caput Mundi — a place where we uphold our belief in the human capacity for goodness, honor and strive for greatness, and seek convergence with reason.

At the time of the Campidoglio’s redesign, Rome was widely viewed as the capital of the ancient world, and the Caput Mundi symbol was intended to represent the world’s apex. It signaled the very spot upon which the pinnacle of mankind’s cumulative successes and achievements converged with the constellations — the very order of the universe — which in turn radiated out from the landmark over the earth. It marked the ground as a place of tremendous importance, where all things came together, and from which all things flowed. The second iteration of the Caput Mundi symbol in the Diplomatic Rooms indicates that it is the spirit of peace and friendship that designates this place The Head of the World — that diplomacy is the vehicle through which the world comes together, and the axis on which it must turn.

Allan Greenberg’s design for the inlaid Treaty Room floor
Allan Greenberg’s design for the inlaid Treaty Room floor. It is a fitting representation of the diplomatic arts — a complex structure, resolved with great innovation and negotiation, coming together to work as a harmonious whole

Today, the story of Michelangelo’s piazza is understood by scholars of architecture as a superlative example of design negotiation. He did not have a blank canvas in the Piazza, nor the potential to identify a conventionally perfect solution. The triumph of Michelangelo’s design is that it was a brilliantly compromised solution that brought order and agreement to what already existed.

This resonates with the goals and very nature of diplomacy: the delicate art of navigating personalities, histories, laws, customs and cultural traditions, and of bringing together individuals who come in friendship as well those who come in conflict. People, of course, are inherently flawed, but when they manage to come together and truly put forth their best — to recognize the indisputable axis of reason — the seemingly insurmountable becomes possible.

Diplomacy is the art of establishing an axis of mutual respect and understanding, and bringing all parties into successful alignment with it. Constructing that axis is a conscious act. Clem Conger recognized (and each Secretary of State since then has seen) that conditions can be built to facilitate this, and ensure the success of its outcome. For all the splendor of the Diplomatic Reception Rooms, they come down to this: a demonstration that we honor our global counterparts, and that we are coming to the table ready to put forth everything that we have to offer for the benefit of all humankind.

Former U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry meets with Central American Youth Ambassadors in the Treaty Room.
Former U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry meets with Central American Youth Ambassadors in the Treaty Room.

By embodying this history and spirit, the new logo mark of the DRRs represents not only our connection to our past, but also our ethos for the present, and how we can together build a successful future. It represents how a nation’s ideals are closely entwined with their accomplishments in the visual arts, a direct thread to the role that is played by the collection of fine and decorative arts that resides here.

Most importantly, the Caput Mundi mark is deeply embedded with humanist principles of seeking rational solutions to human problems, of valuing human beings and seeing their inherent goodness, and of striving towards creating an educated and engaged public — exemplifying the tenets of successful diplomacy and of the Diplomatic Reception Rooms themselves.

This philosophy is central to our purpose, lived each day in our mission, and is now — at last — expressed in our brand.


Sources

Dressen, Angela. The Umbilico of the World: The Roman Capitol and its Pavement.
Accessed September 22, 2018. http://www.academia.edu/4496196/The_umbilico_of_the_World_The_Roman_Capitol_and_its_Pavement

Jones, Clint and Ellis, Cameron. The Individual and Utopia: A Multidisciplinary Study of Humanity and Perfection. New York: Routledge, 2016.

Keel, Andrew. Campidoglio (Capitoline Hill) from the Department of Landscape Architecture and Regional Planning at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. Accessed July 15, 2018. https://courses.umass.edu/latour/Italy/2005/keelog/index.html.

Partner, Peter. Renaissance Rome 1500-1559: A Portrait of a Society. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1976.

Rodgers, Elizabeth Barlow. Landscape Design: A Cultural and Architectural History. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 2001.

Wallace, William. Michelangelo: The Artist, the Man, and His Times. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010.

Wikiarquitectura: The World’s Largest Architecture Encyclopedia. “Piazza del Campidoglio.” Accessed July 19, 2018. https://en.wikiarquitectura.com/building/piazza-del-campidoglio/.


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