Art & History

The Apotheosis of Washington

  The Central Group

Constantino Brumidi painted The Apotheosis of Washington on the ceiling of the Rotunda, the center of the Capitol, in 1865. He used a fresco technique in which water-based paints are applied to freshly spread plaster.

The subjects shown in the dome mix individuals from American history, gods of Roman mythology and personifications—abstract concepts illustrated as a person. This mixture of history and myth was a common way to show abstract ideas in art in the 19th century, and would have been easily grasped by viewers at the time.

The center of the painting shows George Washington rising into the heavens in glory. Female personifications of Liberty and Victory or Fame are at his sides. Thirteen maidens, symbolizing the thirteen original states, circle the three central figures.

The groups around the perimeter of the main scene illustrate important aspects of America, and tell the viewer what the nation prided itself in during the 19th century. Innovation and industry are important recurring themes.


War: Sword raised and cape flying, Freedom tramples Tyranny and Kingly power with the assistance of an eagle carrying arrows.


Science: Minerva, the Roman goddess of wisdom and the arts, points to an electric generator and a printing press. Inventors Benjamin Franklin, Robert Fulton—who invented the first practical steam engine—and telegraph inventor Samuel F. B. Morse surround the goddess.


Marine: Holding his trident, Neptune, the Roman god of the sea, looks on as Venus, the Roman goddess of love who was born from the sea, helps lay the transatlantic cable. An iron-clad ship with smokestacks can be seen in the background.


Commerce: Mercury, Roman god of commerce, in his winged cap and sandals hands a bag of gold to Robert Morris, financier of the Revolutionary War. Brumidi signed and dated the canopy on the box below Mercury.


Mechanics: Vulcan—Roman god of fire, blacksmiths, and craftsmanship—stands at his anvil, near a cannon and pile of cannon balls. A steam engine is visible in the background.


Agriculture: Ceres, Roman goddess of agriculture, is identified by the wheat wreath on her head and a cornucopia. She is seated on a McCormack reaper, which was the first mechanical reaper and revolutionized wheat production in the mid-west. Young America wears a liberty cap and holds the reins of draft horses, while Flora gathers flowers in the background.

About the Artist

Constantino Brumidi (1805–1880) was born and raised in Rome, Italy. Before moving to the United States in 1852, Brumidi painted in the Vatican—home of the governing body of the Catholic Church—and Roman palaces. After arriving in America, Brumidi became the artist of the Capitol. He painted frescoes and murals throughout the Capitol from 1855 until his death. In addition to The Apotheosis of Washington, Brumidi painted the meeting room of the House Committee on Agriculture and is known for his work in the Senate hallways, referred to as the Brumidi Corridors.