As you know, I love me some rotundas. They are probably my most favorite architectural feature. And frankly, I don’t know of one that can best the granddaddy of them all… the rotunda in the Capitol Building in Washington, D.C. It’s beautiful!
And it’s multifaceted thanks to a number of features… the natural lighting from the many windows illuminates the rotunda beautifully. Manufactured light would be harsher and mute the warm tones used in the rotunda. Instead, you’re able to enjoy the roses, pinks, corals, oranges, golds, and yellows. For the record, there are thirty-six windows. Nope, I didn’t count them. I looked it up. I love learning the nerdy facts about my nation’s Capitol.
I shot all of these photographs in March 2008, when I was in Washington, D.C. with my sister, brother, sister-in-law, and our friend. This was the coming out party for my Canon 5D… I’d owned her about two weeks prior to this trip. She performed like a champ!
At the center of the Rotunda is the Apotheosis of Washington, painted by Constantino Brumidi. Yup, we hired an Italian… then again, American painters aren’t known for their frescos. Just sayin’.
The fresco shows George Washington, our first president, rising to the heavens in glory (cue overhead lighting for further symbolism if this were film) while surrounded by women representing Liberty and Victory or Fame. Why do women always surround the men? Anyway, moving on…
On the perimeter are six other groups… they represent: War (with Armed Freedom and the eagle defeating Tyranny and Kingly Power), Science (with Minerva teaching Benjamin Franklin, Robert Fulton, and Samuel F.B. Morse), Marine (with Neptune holding his trident and Venus holding the transatlantic cable (it was being laid at the time this was painted)), Commerce (with Mercury handing a bag of money to Robert Morris, financier of the American Revolution), Mechanics (with Vulcan (no, not Spock’s home planet) at the anvil and forge, producing a cannon and a steam engine), and Agriculture (with Ceres seated on the McCormick Reaper, accompanied by America (in a red liberty cap) and Flora (picking flowers)). For the record, the website for the Architect of the Capitol is very informative! I originally researched the rotunda when creating a coffee table book for my sibs and I commemorating this trip.
Around the “skirt” of the rotunda is another painting, the Frieze of American History, painted by Constantino Brumidi, Filippo Constaggini, and Allyn Cox over the course of nearly 100 years. It is a timeline of events through American history, beginning with Columbus discovering the Americas and ending with the Wright Brothers’ flight at Kitty Hawk. There is one scene that separates the two, America and History, and it is the only allegorical panel.
Now for the luck part… enlarge the photo. Please note, I shot the portion of the skirt where the first and final panels meet. The panels you see in this photo are, from left to right:
- Peace at the End of the Civil War
- Naval Gun Crew in the Spanish-American War
- The Birth of Aviation
- America and History
They were painted to look like sculpture… and I think they did a darn good job since the images are flat, not done in relief.
I first visited the Capitol Rotunda in the summer of 1993. I have been fascinated ever since. It’s grand and glorious. There are far more features to the great hall, but the Rotunda is the crowning glory (pun intended).