The Capitol Dome

Spring 2014

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C onstantino Brumidi's training and experience in Rome prepared him well for the role he would play as "artist of the Capitol." 1 When he was introduced to the engineer in charge of construction, Captain Montgomery Meigs, at the end of 1854, he must have truly seemed a godsend in response to Meigs's hope to embellish the new wings of the Capitol with frescoes. Not only did Brumidi have the knowledge and skill to paint true frescoes, he also was an expert in creating images and in styles derived from ancient Rome and the Renaissance. ere are many direct correlations between what he saw, studied, and painted in Rome and the images he designed and painted on the walls and ceilings of the Capitol. By the time of his death in 1880 he had helped to accomplish Meigs's vision of a Capitol that could rival European palaces in richness and beauty of decoration. Brumidi, born in Rome in 1805, was a mature artist nearing his fiftieth birthday when he first applied a brush to a wall of the Capitol. His father, Stauros Brumidi, was Greek, having come to Rome as an adult almost twenty- five years earlier from the town of Philiatra on the west coast of the Peloponnesus, then part of the Ottoman Empire. 2 He married a Roman, Anna Maria Bianchini, in 1798. e couple operated a coffee shop at 26 Via Tor de' Conti (fig. 2A), on the site of the present Hotel Forum. ey lost three children in infancy, the last one also named Costantino, so they must have been very thankful for a son who lived to adulthood. Costantino Domenico Brumidi was baptized in the church of SS. Quirico and Giulitta, around the corner from the coffee shop. 3 "Constantino" is the version of his name most often used after he came to America. e Brumidi coffee shop overlooked the Forum of Augustus near the main Roman Forum, so the boy was surrounded by classical art and architecture from birth. e historical relief frieze he would have seen winding around the Column of Trajan in the nearby Forum of Trajan is the ancestor of the Frieze of American History he would paint at the end of his life around the base of the dome of the Capitol. Rome Brought to Washington in Brumidi's M urals for the United States Capitol By Barbara A. Wolanin Fig. 1A. Detail of carved relief with swan and rinceaux on the Ara Pacis, Rome. PHOTOGRAPH BY AUTHOR Fig. 1B. Detail of wall panel with swan designed by Brumidi in the north Brumidi Corridor, Senate Wing, United States Capitol. ARCHITECT OF THE CAPITOL 2 THE CAPITOL DOME SPRING 2014

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