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Constantine Brumidi: The "Michelangelo of the U.S. Capitol"

23 February 2021

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.

Forgotten for many years, Brumidi’s role in decorating the most visible symbol of American history and power was rescued from obscurity by Myrtle Cheney Murdock.

Myrtle Cheney Murdock launched a campaign to resurrect the reputation of Constantino Brumidi in 1936. As the wife of a freshman Congressman from Arizona, Mrs. Murdock was struck by the beauty of the frescoes painted on the walls and ceilings of the U.S. Capitol. After enquiring about the artist to no avail, Myrtle Cheney Murdock began to research the life and art of Brumidi. Eventually, Mrs. Murdock became the Capitol's resident expert on Constantino Brumidi, and was employed as a Capitol guide until her death. She published six books on the Capitol building, one of whom, Brumidi, Michelangelo of the Capitol, deals exclusively with the life and work of Constantino Brumidi.

On September 1, 2008, President George W. Bush signed Public Law 110-59, which posthumously awarded the Congressional Gold Medal to Constantino Brumidi, to be displayed forever in the Capitol Visitor Center as part of an exhibit honoring him.

Since then, along with the honors given to his personality, no one can overlook the fact that through the great artist the Greek Diaspora in the USA is also honored, its constant presence there and of course the constant friendship of Greeks and Americans.

#USGreece2021

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