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Constantino Brumidi: The Michelangelo of U.S. Capitol

22 November 2017

Constantino Brumidi (July 26, 1805 – February 19, 1880) was a Greek-Italian-American historical painter, best known and honored for his fresco work in the Capitol Building in Washington, DC.

Brumidi was born in Rome; his father was a Greek from Filiatra in the province of Messinia, Greece, and his mother an Italian. He showed his talent for fresco painting at an early age and painted in several Roman palaces.

In 1849 he sailed for the United States, where he became a naturalized citizen in 1852.

The Apotheosis of Washington, his most ambitious work at the Capitol Building, 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. Some of the groups and figures were inspired by classical and Renaissance images, especially by those of the Italian master Raphael.

In the central group of the fresco, Brumidi depicted George Washington 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. (The word “apotheosis” in the title means literally the raising of a person to the rank of a god, or the glorification of a person as an ideal; George Washington was honored as a national icon in the nineteenth century.)

Also Brumidi's Liberty and Union paintings are mounted near the ceiling of the White House entrance hall.

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