Where is your Rotunda?

U.S. Capitol Rotunda dome in Washington, D.C.

It seems that most nation and state capitols have a dome, or rotunda.  Each has a story to tell, with its own unique history. 

U.S. Capitol dome in Washington, D.C.

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.

Center of the U.S. Capitol Rotunda in Washington, D.C.

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!

Ron

Capitol Crypt


The white stone compass star in the center marks where the city’s four quadrants meet. 

Yes, you read this correctly.  There is a place in the U.S. Capitol called the Crypt. 

For a long time the term has referenced the space below the main floor of a church or a chamber in a mausoleum.  We often think of a crypt as a place for burial, right?

Why the capitol then?  It is something different. The Crypt contains 40 smooth Doric columns of sandstone, which support the arches holding up the floor of the Rotunda,  the large, domed, circular room located in the center of the Capitol on the second floor. 

The columns are modeled on the Temple of Poseidon, which were the shortest and the strongest columns that survive from classical Greece.

The sandstone floor hosts hundreds of people visiting every day from around the world.  The white stone compass star in the center marks where the city’s four quadrants meet. 

Sandstone used in the U.S. Capitol

Around the perimeter are statues of prominent individuals from the nation’s original 13 colonies.  Display cases present exhibits and historic objects.

The Crypt was associated with a proposed interment even before it was built. After the death of President George Washington in 1799, Congress resolved to honor him in the Capitol.

A chamber for the remains of the first president and his wife was added to the plans for the center section of the building and constructed two stories below the Rotunda. Directly above the tomb, where the center of the Crypt is located, was to be placed a marble statue of Washington.

A 10-foot circular opening was left in the center of the Rotunda floor so that visitors could view it from above. However, Washington’s grave remained at Mount Vernon in accordance with his wishes, and no statue of him was ever placed in the Crypt.

Because the 10-foot opening allowed persistent drafts and dampness into the Rotunda, it was sealed in 1828.  https://www.aoc.gov/blog/how-crypt-got-its-name

George Washington truly represented our nation and its values well.  He didn’t want to become a king but simply wanted to return to his civilian life after his term was over so others could be elected president. 

Maybe our political leaders should revisit the ideals of President Washington in providing selfless service for the people. 

Blessings and love along the way,

Ron