Apotheosis of Washington in the Capitol Dome (1865)

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The Apotheosis of Washington (below referred to as “Brumidi’s allegorical painting” was Painted in the Rotunda eye of the Capitol Dome by artist Constantino Brumidi. The work took nearly a year to complete, and was finished in 1865. This work of art even plays a role in modern-day literature, namely Dan Brown’s book, The Lost Symbol. (No actual reports of a hand tattooed with Masonic symbols have been noted, however.)

Apotheosis of Washington

The Apotheosis of Washington in the Rotunda eye of the Capitol Dome was Constantino Brumidi’s most ambitious work. He painted it over 11 months at the end of the Civil War, as the new dome was being completed.

Brumidi - US capitol

Suspended 180 feet above the Rotunda floor, it covers an area of 4,664 square feet. The figures, up to 15 feet tall, were painted to be seen from close up as well as from 180 feet below. Some of the groups and figures were inspired by classical and Renaissance images, especially by those of the Italian master, Raphael.

The word “apotheosis” means the raising of a person to the rank of a god, or the glorification of a person as an ideal; George Washington was so highly revered that the concept seemed fitting.

In the central group, Washington is flanked by two female figures, each holding symbols of two ideas: Liberty/Authority and Victory/Fame. A rainbow arches below their feet. Female figures in flowing robes symbolize the original 13 states, some holding a banner with the motto “E Pluribus Unum,” Latin for “out of many, one.”

Six groups of figures on the ground below are seen at the perimeter of the canopy; the following list begins below the central group and proceeds clockwise:

War. Bellona, depicted as Freedom in armor, defeats Tyranny and Kingly Power with her sword and shield.

Science. Minerva, shown with Benjamin Franklin, Robert Fulton, and Samuel F.B. Morse, points to a wheel generating electricity being stored in batteries.

Marine. Neptune holds his trident and Venus helps hold the transatlantic cable, which was being laid at the time the fresco was painted to carry telegraph signals to Europe.

Commerce. Mercury hands a bag of money to Robert Morris, financier of the American Revolution. Brumidi signed and dated this scene 1865.

Mechanics. Vulcan, with an anvil and forge, stands on a cannon, with a steam engine in the background.

Agriculture. Ceres sits on the McCormick Reaper, accompanied by Young America in a red liberty cap and Flora picking flowers. Detail above.

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Some information provided courtesy the US Capitol Visitor Center

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