It seems that most nation and state capitols have a dome, or rotunda. Each has a story to tell, with its own unique history.
Although I’ve seen firsthand the U.S. Capitol Rotunda a few times during my visits there, I didn’t have the particular desire at the time to learn more of its history – only to absorb its uniqueness and beauty.
Why not? Maybe, as I mature, I realize the significance of what has transpired to where we are today. I realize there are myriads of untold stories and facts that await discovery.
The U.S. Capitol Rotunda is a large, domed, circular room in the center of the United States Capitol on the second floor. It is used for important ceremonial events such as the lying in state of eminent citizens and the dedication of works of art.
The Rotunda canopy features the painting entitled The Apotheosis of Washington, and the walls hold historic paintings along with a frescoed band, or “frieze,” depicting significant events in American history.
The Apotheosis was painted in 11 months at the end of the Civil War, soon after the new dome was completed, for $40,000. The figures, up to 15 feet tall, were painted to be intelligible from close up as well as from 180 feet below. (Note: The word “apotheosis” means literally the raising of a person to the rank of a god, or the glorification of a person as an ideal, as George Washington was honored as a national icon in the nineteenth century).
My personal opinion about this attempt to show George Washington in this elevated state would have upset this humble, respected leader. He didn’t even want to continue being president, and certainly didn’t want to be considered king – hence why he returned to his home and family to allow others to be selected by the people to lead the nation.
Some of the groups and figures in the Rotunda were inspired by classical and renaissance images.
George Washington is depicted in the center of the fresco rising to the heavens in glory, flanked by female figures representing liberty and victory/fame. A rainbow arches at his feet, and thirteen maidens symbolizing the original states flank the three central figures. Six groups of figures line the perimeter of the canopy.
Just below the apotheosis and windows of the dome is the frieze, containing a painted panorama of significant events in American history.
I’ll provide some of the artist’s background and a few more details in my next post. I thought it was interesting.
Blessings along the way!