Diplomatic Reception Rooms

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The Thomas Jefferson State Reception RoomThe Secretaries of State Terrace
Architect John Blatteau looked to the great halls of Europe in his design for the largest and grandest of the Diplomatic Reception Rooms.

Architectural Tradition

The Benjamin Franklin State Dining Room is used for both dining and diplomacy and, at almost 100 feet long, can accommodate 375 guests. Here American ambassadors and diplomats are sworn into service, and both presidents and secretaries of state give speeches, conduct meetings with world leaders, and host receptions for foreign and American guests. Because of its size, no room in colonial or Federal America could serve as a model, so its architect, John Blatteau, looked toward Europe. 

The Benjamin Franklin State Dining Room before and after its 1985 renovation.

Blatteau found his inspiration in Kedleston Hall, built for the Curzon family in Derbyshire in 1765 as a showplace for exhibitions and grand entertainments. Franklin himself would have known Kedleston from his travels around England when he was a diplomatic representative of the American colonies in London during the 1760s and early 1770s.

The Marble Hall at Kedleston Hall, Derbyshire UK

A Setting for Diplomacy

Of all the spaces in the Diplomatic Reception Rooms, this State Room evokes the most grandeur. Like Kedleston Hall, the design emphasizes the balance and geometric proportion of Greek and Roman architecture. Freestanding columns line the long walls, and pilasters line the short walls. Twenty-four karat oil gilding highlights the Corinthian capitals and the coffered ceiling. In the center of the ceiling, carved in plaster and similarly gilded, is the Great Seal of the United States. Central to the Great Seal is the image of a bald eagle, whose talons hold arrows, symbolizing war, and an olive branch, symbolizing peace. In its beak is a banner with the motto “E pluribus unum,” meaning “Out of many, one.” This seal was designed by Congress not long after independence was declared in 1776, and since 1789 the secretary of state has been its official keeper. Elements of the seal are repeated in the rug below, which was designed by the architect and specially made for this room. Woven into its patterns are stars for the fifty states and emblems celebrating American agriculture and natural abundance.

Historical Furnishings

Eight cut-glass chandeliers and sconces along the walls of the room provide dramatic lighting. The room is furnished with four American Federal sideboards made in New York, one by the renowned cabinetmaker Duncan Phyfe. Paintings on the walls include a still life of fruits and flowers by Severin Roesen, and a landscape by the famous painter of the American West, Thomas Moran. Works by George Caleb Bingham and John Singer Sargent are also featured. Hanging in a place of honor is a portrait of Benjamin Franklin, a copy of a portrait made in 1767, when Franklin was in London. It shows not the public diplomat but the private man of science, wearing spectacles—perhaps the bifocals of his own invention—as he studies legal documents under a bust of Isaac Newton.

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The Benjamin Franklin State Dining Room
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The Architect

John Blatteau
Throughout his career, Blatteau created designs for buildings that emphasized balance, geometry, and ornamentation – the tenets of the classical tradition.
The Work of John Blatteau

Named in Honor of

Benjamin Franklin
This State Room celebrates the legacy of statecraft established by our nation’s first diplomat and the “Father of the American Foreign Service.”
Read the Biography
Portrait of Benjamin Franklin
Portrait of Benjamin Franklin
Benjamin Wilson, 1757-1758
Oil on canvas

Objects in This Room

Portrait of Benjamin Franklin

Portrait of Benjamin Franklin

Wilson, Benjamin
1757-1758
oil on canvas
Federal Figured Mahogany Sideboard

Federal Figured Mahogany Sideboard

Shop of Duncan Phyfe
ca. 1808-1809
wood; mahogany; mahogany veneer; eastern white pine; yellow-poplar
Portrait of Anne Dade Stith Bolling

Portrait of Anne Dade Stith Bolling

King, Charles Bird
n.d.
oil on canvas
Chippendale Mahogany Serpentine Chest of Drawers

Chippendale Mahogany Serpentine Chest of Drawers

Gostelowe, Jonathan
ca. 1770-1800
wood; mahogany; southern yellow pine; yellow-poplar; sycamore; eastern white pine
French Empire Gilt-Bronze George Washington Clock

French Empire Gilt-Bronze George Washington Clock

Dubuc, Jean-Baptiste
1806-1817
metal; gilt bronze
Still Life with Vase of Flowers and Bird's Nest

Still Life with Vase of Flowers and Bird's Nest

Roesen, Severin
ca. 1848-1852
oil on canvas
Portrait of John Marshall

Portrait of John Marshall

Inman, Henry
ca. 1800-1850
oil on canvas
Portrait of His Highness The Mushir Mohammed Essadek, Bey of Tunis [Muhammad III as-Sadiq]

Portrait of His Highness The Mushir Mohammed Essadek, Bey of Tunis [Muhammad III as-Sadiq]

Simil, Louis Augustin
1865
oil on canvas
Landscape, William Trost Richards

Landscape

Richards, William Trost
1869
oil on canvas
A Two-Tiered Still Life with Fruit [Nature's Bounty]

A Two-Tiered Still Life with Fruit [Nature's Bounty]

Roesen, Severin
After 1852
oil on canvas, mounted on masonite
Portrait of Thomas F. Bayard, 30th Secretary of State under President Grover Cleveland

Portrait of Thomas F. Bayard, 30th Secretary of State under President Grover Cleveland

Sargent, John Singer
ca. 1897
oil on canvas, mounted on aluminum
The Cliffs of Green River, Wyoming

The Cliffs of Green River, Wyoming

Moran, Thomas
1900
oil on canvas
The Spirit of '76 [Yankee Doodle]

The Spirit of '76 [Yankee Doodle]

Unknown
1875
oil on canvas, in the original gilt frame
Portrait of Leonidas Wetmore

Portrait of Leonidas Wetmore

Bingham, George Caleb
ca. 1839-1840
oil on canvas
Neoclassical Benjamin Franklin Gilt-Bronze Mantel Clock

Neoclassical Benjamin Franklin Gilt-Bronze Mantel Clock

Dubuc, Jean-Baptiste
ca. 1830
metal; gilt bronze
Portrait of Benjamin Franklin

Portrait of Benjamin Franklin

Stevens, Bradley
2003
oil on linen