–by Sarah Lewis
Like many others who visit the Capitol for the first time, I experienced love at first sight when I entered the Rotunda. As I stood in place just staring up for what seemed like hours, I spotted the Apotheosis.
This giant fresco was painted in 1865 by Constantino Brumidi and hangs in the eye of the Rotunda, 180 feet above the floor. Brumidi wanted to make the fresco large enough so that viewers standing far away could be just as in awe as if they were standing directly in front of it; and at 4,664 feet square, it certainly is large enough. The fresco depicts George Washington rising towards the heavens, surrounded by women representing liberty & victory and other figures. How appropriate that “apotheosis” means “the raising of a person to the rank of a god, or the glorification of a person as an ideal.”
Prior to his work at the Capitol, Brumidi painted Vatican and Roman palaces while training in Rome. This work no doubt is what enabled him to paint frescoes and murals throughout the Capitol over 25 years. The Apotheosis of Washington is Brumidi’s most ambitious work and took approximately 11 months to complete after the end of the Civil War. Some of the figures surrounding Washington in the fresco were inspired by classical/Renaissance images, mainly those of the great Raphael, and others of the others depict important men in American history. As I spend more time touring the Capitol, I suspect I will become something of a Brumidi expert, and I invite you to keep reading for updates!
See the Architect of the Capitol’s website for more information about this fresco.