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Members of the House of Representatives sit in unassigned armchairs arranged in a semicircle on tiered platforms that face the Speaker's rostrum. Behind the rostrum is a frontispiece with Ionic columns made of black Italian marble with white Alabama marble capitals. An American flag occupies the center and is flanked by two bronze faces. The chamber's lower walls are walnut paneled with intervening light grey Genevieve Sheldorado marble pilasters. A gallery for visitors and the press corps rings the chamber
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Burial of DeSoto

Burial of DeSoto frieze
Constantino Brumidi
Artist

Frieze of American History
Rotunda
U.S. Capitol

Overview 

Spanish explorer Hernando DeSoto died of a fever while searching for gold in Florida and the territory north of the Gulf of Mexico. To protect his body from enemies, his men buried him at night in the Mississippi River, which he had been the first European to discover. (1542)

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.

Last Updated: October 10, 2014