Apotheosis Artist

How do they do that? I wonder as I look at the fantastic, artistic work like we see in the U.S. Capitol’s Rotunda. 

Constantino Brumidi (1805–1880) is best known for the murals he painted in the United States Capitol over a 25-year period, including the “Apotheosis of Washington,” the “Frieze of American History” and the walls of the Brumidi Corridors.  (https://www.aoc.gov/capitol-hill/artists/constantino-brumidi)

Brumidi’s artistic vision was based on the wall paintings of ancient Rome and Pompeii, and on classical revivals that occurred in the Renaissance and Baroque periods, and in the early 19th-century.

Frieze of American history by Brumidi. (photo courtesy of Architects of the Capitol)

Brumidi was born in Rome before Italy was a nation. Beginning at age 13, he studied for 14 years at the Academy of St. Luke and was trained in the full range of painting mediums, including true fresco, and possibly in sculpture. He achieved a mastery of the human figure and learned how to create the appearance of three-dimensional forms on flat surfaces, an effect called trompe l’oeil (“fool the eye”).

At the Roman villa of the wealthy Torlonia family, he was in charge of decorating the new theater with murals including trompe l’oeil architectural forms and classical motifs that he later adapted for the Capitol.

Brumidi also worked extensively for the Vatican, restoring frescoes for Pope Gregory XVI and painting the official portrait of Pope Pius IX. His last murals in Rome were in a small church dedicated in 1851.

Brumidi helped support his family with the coffee shop inherited from his father. He also served as captain in the civic guard authorized by Pius IX, but when the pope fled the city, and a republic was declared in 1849, Brumidi was caught up in the revolution when he removed valuable objects from church buildings for safekeeping.

After the pope returned to power, Brumidi was among many arrested and accused of serious crimes. Despite numerous testimonies in his favor, and after 13 months of incarceration, he was sentenced to 18 years in prison. The pope pardoned him with the understanding that he would be leaving for America, where he was promised work in planned churches.

Arriving in New York in September 1852, Brumidi immediately applied for citizenship, which he was granted in 1857. He undertook private portrait and domestic commissions as well as painting altar pieces and murals in numerous churches.

Frieze at the U.S. Capitol Rotunda in Washington, D.C.

Beginning in 1855, Brumidi decorated walls and ceilings in the U.S. Capitol Building.  He worked with teams of artists to carry out his designs, executing all of the true frescoes himself. His murals combine classical and allegorical subjects with portraits and scenes from American history and tributes to American values and inventions.

Brumidi’s major contributions are the monumental canopy and frieze of the new Capitol Dome, and the Capitol Apotheosis in 1865.  He began painting the frieze depicting major events in American history in 1878 but died on February 19, 1880, with the work less than half finished.

Brumidi’s frieze image depicting Christopher Columbus landing in North America (photo courtesy of Architects of the Capitol)

Filippo Costaggini carried out Brumidi’s remaining designs between 1881 and 1889.  The entire frieze was not completed until 1953, when Allyn Cox added the last three scenes.

The sequence of 19 scenes begins over the west door and moves clockwise around the Rotunda. See https://www.aoc.gov/art/other-paintings-and-murals/frieze-american-history for details of the scenes.

Brumidi’s frieze image depicting North American aviation (photo courtesy of Architects of the Capitol)

Brumidi’s immigration to the U.S. and his citizenship is an example of the influence of those coming to the United States to provide significant and lasting value, how people from around the world helped build a nation to champion world freedom and prosperity. Notice it took Brumidi from 1852 to 1857 to obtain his U.S. citizenship.  He became a citizen the right way, even though it took about five years. 

Blessings along the Way!

Ron