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Snapshot of a crowd of people on a guided tour through the Rotunda of the U.S. Capitol
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Cortez and Montezuma at Mexican Temple

Cortez and Montezuma at Mexican Temple frieze
Constantino Brumidi
Artist

Frieze of American History
Rotunda
U.S. Capitol

Overview 

The Spaniard Hernando Cortez, conqueror of Mexico, enters the Aztec temple in 1519. He is welcomed by Emperor Montezuma II, who thought Cortez was a god. The calendar stone and idols are based on sketches that artist Constantino Brumidi made in Mexico City. (1520)

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