The Rotunda is a large, domed, circular room located in the center of the U.S. Capitol.

As it appears today, the U.S. Capitol Rotunda is the result of two distinct building campaigns. Dr. William Thornton, who won the competition for the design of the U.S. Capitol in 1793, conceived the idea of a central rotunda. Due to a shortage of funds and materials, sporadic construction phases, and the fire set by the British in 1814, the Capitol Rotunda was not begun until 1818.

The Rotunda was completed under the direction of Charles Bulfinch by the time of the visit of the Marquis de Lafayette in 1824. Conceived in the age of neoclassicism, the Rotunda was intended to recall the Pantheon, the ancient Roman temple. Bulfinch created in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda an ambitious orchestration of architecture, sculpture and painting.

The curved sandstone walls are divided by fluted Doric pilasters with wreaths of olive branches carved in the frieze above. The floor is composed of concentric rings of waxed Seneca Sandstone arrayed around a central circular white marble slab. Individual stones have been replaced as needed since their installation.

The space is used for important ceremonial events as authorized by concurrent resolution, such as the lying in state of eminent citizens and the dedication of works of art.

Historical Paintings

Four revolutionary period scenes were commissioned by Congress from John Trumbull in 1817 and placed in the Rotunda between 1819 and 1824:

Four scenes of early exploration were added between 1840 and 1855:

Relief Sculpture

Four wreathed panels above the paintings frame portrait busts of early explorers:

In the relief panels above the four entrances are scenes from American colonial history:

Dome, Apotheosis and Frieze

The sandstone walls of the Rotunda rise 48 feet above the floor. Everything above this line was added between 1855 and 1866 by Thomas U. Walter, who designed the north and south extensions of the Capitol Building. Congress authorized the new high dome of fireproof cast iron to bring the center portion of the U.S. Capitol into harmony with the large new wings.

Walter's 1859 section of the new dome and enlarged Rotunda showed a fresco in the canopy over the eye of the inner dome and a sculpted frieze at the base of the dome. Constantino Brumidi painted The Apotheosis of Washington in true fresco on the canopy in 1865. The figures, up to 15 feet tall, were painted to be intelligible from close up as well as from 180 feet below.

The frescoed frieze in the belt just below the 36 windows was painted to give the illusion of a sculpted relief. The scenes designed by Brumidi trace America's history from its discovery by Columbus to the discovery of gold in California, with emphasis on Spanish explorers and the Revolutionary War.

Brumidi prepared a sketch for the frieze in 1859, but he was not authorized to begin work until 1877. After Brumidi's death in 1880, Filippo Costaggini was commissioned to complete the eight remaining scenes following Brumidi's sketches. However, when the frieze was finished in 1889, a gap of over 31 feet remained. The frieze was finally completed by Allyn Cox in 1953 with scenes of the Civil War, the Spanish-American War, and the Birth of Aviation.

Statues and Busts

The statues and busts in the Capitol Rotunda are primarily of presidents, including a copy of a statue of George Washington by Antoine Houdon. The marble statue of Abraham Lincoln is by Vinnie Ream, for whom Lincoln sat. She was the first woman artist to receive a government commission.

Other former presidents commemorated with statues in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda:

The sculpture in the Rotunda also includes representations of Alexander HamiltonDr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Portrait Monument to Lucretia Mott, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony.

Restoration Efforts

Over time, water leaking through the Capitol Dome and into the building caused more than 1,000 cracks, damaging paint, cast iron, stone and decorative elements in the Rotunda.

Beginning in July 2015, and throughout the restoration process, the Architect of the Capitol repaired ironwork, upgraded electrical and mechanical systems, installed new lighting, removed hazardous materials and returned the Rotunda's paint scheme to more historically accurate colors.

The restoration of the Rotunda ensures this hallowed space will be enjoyed by generations of visitors, staff and members of Congress for years to come.

Which is taller, the Capitol or the Washington Monument?

The Washington Monument, standing 555 feet tall, is 267 feet taller than the U.S. Capitol. Because the base of the Washington Monument is 30 feet above sea level, and that of the Capitol is 88 feet above sea level, the top of the Washington Monument is 209 feet higher than the top of the Capitol Building.

Image
Constantino Brumidi, War detail from the Apotheosis of Washington, 1865.

The Art Collection

Apotheosis of Washington

Painted in the true fresco technique by Constantino Brumidi in 1865 in the eye of the U.S. Capitol Rotunda.

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