Washington D.C. is much more that our capital. It is a place of magnificent architecture, painting, and sculpture. Until the 19th Century, it was a pleasant rural town but artistically a blank canvas waiting for some of the world’s greatest artisans.
At age 59, Constantino Brumidi was commissioned by the government to paint the Capitol rotunda dome. Scaffolds were constructed 180 feet above the rotunda floor, and Brumidi climbed to the top inches from the ceiling, lied on his back, and applied the colored plaster to the surface. He frequently worked day and night due to the nature of fresco and to satisfy his desire to complete the project while he was still physically able.
He spent the next years adorning the Capitol interior with magnificent works of art. In 1877, when Brumidi was 72 years old, he took on another major challenge in the Capitol’s rotunda. Sixty feet above the floor there was a blank wall, eight feet tall and
feet in circumference. Scaffolds were again erected. He had been planning for
years to fill this space with a panoramic frieze consisting of scenes from
American history. For two years he worked like a man possessed, racing against
time. While working on his seventh scene, Brumidi lost his balance. As he was
falling, he managed to grab a section of the scaffold. He was dangling five
stories above the rotunda floor. Several minutes passed before he could be
rescued. This ordeal probably hastened his death a few months later.
Today, visitors are in awe of Brumidi’s masterpieces. If you look closely, his signature can still be seen on some of his works. It always reads, “C. Brumidi, artist. Citizen of the U.S.”