Italian immigrant Constantino Brumidi was honored with the Congressional Gold Medal in honor of his contributions to Washington, D.C., and the nation. Brumidi painted frescoes and friezes (decorated bands around a room) throughout the U.S. Capitol from 1855 until his death in 1889.
“I remember being this kid from a town in Nevada and looking up at these paintings and thinking it was a miracle,” said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), according to the Associated Press.
Brumidi was born in Rome in 1805, where he was classically trained in painting at the Academy of St. Luke. He painted murals for private citizens and also worked for the Vatican. He was forced to leave Italy after the revolution.
Of Brumidi, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) said, “Here you had a Capitol that was, at that point, a perpetual construction site, embroiled in bickering and controversy. There were big ideas for the interior, but no artist to get them off the ground. In comes this son of Italy seizing on a second chance to do what he loves, to live out a dream he is not allowed to continue pursuing in his native land. It’s a perfect match, a truly American story.”
Brumidi immigrated to the U.S. in 1852, applied for citizenship immediately and became a U.S. citizen in 1857. In 1855, he began painting frescoes in the Capitol, some of which appear in the House Appropriations Committee room, the Senate Committee on Naval Affairs room, the Senate Reception room, the Senate Library, the President’s room, and the Senate first-floor corridors.
Brumidi’s crowning achievements were the painting of the Apotheosis of Washington in the Capitol rotunda and the frieze depicting events in American history below it, which he designed completely but was only able to partially complete before his death in 1889.