Explore Capitol Hill
The Birth of Aviation
The first flight at Kitty Hawk (December 17, 1903) is depicted, with Orville Wright in the Flyer, which has just left the ground, and Wilbur running alongside to steady the wing. In the background stand Leonardo da Vinci, Samuel Pierpont Langley, and Octave Chanute; each holds a model of his earlier design for a flying machine. An eagle with an olive branch in its talons emphasizes this flight as a great American achievement and closes this last scene. (1903)
The frieze in the Rotunda of the United States Capitol contains a painted panorama depicting significant events in American history. Thomas U. Walter's 1859 cross-section drawing of the new dome (constructed 1855-1863) shows a recessed belt atop the Rotunda walls with relief sculpture. Eventually it was painted in true fresco, a difficult and exacting technique in which the pigments are applied directly onto wet plaster. As the plaster cures the colors become part of the wall. Consequently, each section of plaster must be painted the day it is laid. The frieze is painted in grisaille, a monochrome of whites and browns that resembles sculpture. It measures 8 feet 4 inches in height and approximately 300 feet in circumference. It starts 58 feet above the floor.
The frieze is the work of three artists, Constantino Brumidi, Filippo Costaggini and Allyn Cox. It was designed by Brumidi, an Italian artist who studied in Rome before emigrating to America. Brumidi created a sketch for the Rotunda frieze in 1859 but was not authorized to begin work until 1877.