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Historical Highlights

The Apotheosis of George Washington

January 17, 1866
The Apotheosis of George Washington Image courtesy of Library of Congress Born and raised in Rome, Constantino Brumidi painted in the Vatican before moving to the United States where he continued his career at the U.S. Capitol.
On this date, Constantino Brumidi’s fresco, The Apotheosis of George Washington, was first reviewed in the National Intelligencer. The fresco (a painting executed on wet plaster) covered the 4,664 square foot canopy, 180 feet above the Rotunda floor. The Intelligencer declared the overall effect of the work “inspiring,” and that “it is almost a difficulty to realize that some of the . . . figures are not things of life.” The review continued, “we do not hesitate to say that both in design and execution it is worthy of the Capitol and the Nation.” Brumidi worked quickly to complete the painting in 11 months. The Civil War halted construction projects halted throughout the capital city, but it did not interrupt work on the Capitol dome and fresco. The Italian artist painted while Union troops camped beneath his scaffolds in the Rotunda. In the fresco, President George Washington is elevated to the heavens, surrounded by female personifications of the original 13 states and allegorical figures representing War, Science, Marine, Commerce, Mechanics and Agriculture. The presence of Washington’s image symbolically fulfilled the long-standing intention to have a memorial to him at the center of the Capitol.

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