The 19 Panels
The sequence of scenes begins over the west door and moves clockwise around the Rotunda
Landing of Columbus
This painting depicts Christopher Columbus and members of his crew on a beach in the West Indies, newly landed from his flagship Santa Maria on October 12, 1492. The island landing was the first landfall of their expedition to find a westward route from Europe to China, Japan and perhaps unknown lands. American neoclassicist painter John Vanderlyn (1775-1852) was commissioned by Congress in June 1836 to paint the Landing of Columbus for the Capitol Rotunda. It was installed in the Rotunda by early January 1847.
Naval Gun Crew in the Spanish-American War
A gun crew prepares to fire a Naval gun in one of the two great naval battles of the Spanish-American War. In the course of helping Cuba win independence from Spain the United States became prominent in world affairs by acquiring a colonial empire (Puerto Rico and Guam) and establishing naval prominence in both oceans. (1898)
Discovery of the Mississippi by De Soto
William Henry Powell's dramatic and brilliantly colored canvas was the last of the eight large historical paintings in the Rotunda commissioned by the Congress. It shows Spanish conquistador and explorer Hernando De Soto (1500–1542), riding a white horse and dressed in Renaissance finery, arriving at the Mississippi River at a point below Natchez on May 8, 1541. De Soto was the first European documented to have seen the river.
Cortez and Montezuma at Mexican Temple
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)
American Army Entering the City of Mexico
General Winfield Scott is shown during the Mexican War, entering the capital. Peace came in 1848 with the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, which fixed the Mexican-American border at the Rio Grande River and recognized the accession of Texas. The treaty also extended the boundaries of the United States to the Pacific. (1847)
Landing of Columbus
Christopher Columbus disembarks from the Santa Maria on a plank, greeted by Native Americans. This is the first of four scenes of Spanish conquest. Brumidi's central figure seems to have been inspired by a statue of Columbus by Luigi Persico, which was then at the east central steps of the Capitol. (1492)
The Columbus Doors
Designed by American sculptor Randolph Rogers, each scene depicting the life of Christopher Columbus is finely modeled. The doors were installed in 1863 and moved to their present location in 1961 following the extension of the East Front of the Capitol.
The bronze doors are curved, with a semicircular tympanum above two valves that are divided into four panels each. Techniques of Renaissance perspective and different levels of relief give each scene a sense of depth.