Constantino Brumidi the “Michelangelo of the Capitol” was dedicated to “making beautiful the Capitol of the one country where there is liberty.” He started with his classical and allegorical murals in a test-run in 1855 decorating walls and ceilings in the building and is renowned for the scenes he painted over a 25-year period, including the Presidents’ Room - the most opulent suite in the Capitol. It’s considered his best work. Brumidi (1805-1880) was born in Rome and studied a full range of painting mediums. He mastered the human figure and three dimensional forms on flat surfaces at the Academy of St. Luke.
Brumidi, who operated a coffee shop and served as a civic guard, worked extensively at the Vatican for Pope Gregory XVI. He restored frescoes and painted the official portrait of Pope Pius IX. At age 47, he came to New York and within 5 years became an American citizen. He began a series of domestic commissions and church paintings before he demonstrated his skill in the U.S. Capitol. After completing the President’s Room, he worked almost daily on the dome canopy in the Capitol’s Rotunda. Each day Brumidi was raised by pulley to a scaffold 180 feet above the floor where he frescoed for hours lying on his back. When he was in his 70s, Brumidi painted the 300-foot roll of history and signed it “C. Brumidi, citizen of the United States.” His caged descent from his scaffold became a main attraction as curiosity seekers watched the man with the long white beard lower to the Rotunda floor at the Capitol. In 1880, he fell in a scaffolding accident and never recovered. He died on February 19 of that year.
On June 10, 2008, Congress passed and President George Bush posthumously awarded the Congressional Gold Medal to be displayed in the Capitol Visitor Center. Brumidi, who was originally buried in an unmarked grave, is quoted, “I have no longer any desire for fame and fortune. My one ambition and my daily prayer is that I may live long enough to make beautiful the Capitol of the one country on earth in which there is liberty.”