Rare Book and Special Collections Division
Pompeii on the Potomac: Thursday, May 31, 2018 3:00pm
Brumidi’s Nineteenth-Century, Roman-style Frescos in the US Capitol
By Dr. Elise A. Friedland
Rosenwald Room, LJ 205 Jefferson Building,
2nd Floor Free and Open to the Public
Constantino Brumidi is most famous for his classically- and Renaissance-inspired Apotheosis of George Washington, a massive fresco that graces the Rotunda in the US Capitol Building. His fi rst full commission, however, was the 1858 fresco covering the walls of the Naval Affairs Committee meeting room (today the Senate Appropriations Committee Room, S-127). Dr. Elise Friedland, Professor of Classics and Art History at The George Washington University, discusses the early nineteenthcentury publication that Brumidi used to design and execute the frescos, Wilhelm Zahn’s massive elephant folio on recently discovered frescos from Pompeii.
Lecture: “Pompeii on the Potomac: Constantino Brumidi’s Nineteenth-Century, Roman-style Frescos in the US Capitol,” Thursday, May 31, 3:00-4:00 PM, in the Lessing J. Rosenwald Room (LJ-205) in the Thomas Jefferson Building.
Please join The Rare Book and Special Collections Division as we host Elise Friedland for a lecture on her research into fresco artist Constantino Brumidi’s use of books in the Library of Congress collections in creating frescos in the US Capitol Building.
Constantino Brumidi, the nineteenth-century Italian-born painter turned US-citizen, is most famous for his classically-inspired “Apotheosis of George Washington,” a massive fresco completed in 1865 that still graces the ceiling of the rotunda in the US Capitol Building. His first full commission in the Capitol, however, was the 1858 fresco cycle covering the walls and ceiling of the Naval Affairs Committee meeting room (today the Senate Appropriations Committee room, S-127). This room stands out among Brumidi’s work in the Capitol (which also covers much of the Senate wing corridors and multiple meeting rooms), because of its coherent aquatic narrative and faithfully Pompeian style. Although S-127’s frescos have been admired as one of the gems of the Capitol, until recently, there has been no complete iconographic study aimed at understanding the subject matter and artistic models chosen by the artist and his patron, Montgomery Meigs, the engineer of the Capitol.
This lecture presents new research that not only reveals the 19th-century publication that Brumidi used to design and execute the frescos, but also demonstrates that the artist used the very copies still owned today by the Library of Congress: Wilhelm Zahn’s massive elephant folio, “Die schönsten Ornamente und merkwürdigsten Gemälde aus Pompeji, Herculanum und Stabiae” (“The Most Beautiful Ornaments and Most Remarkable Paintings from Pompeii, Herculanum and Stabiae”; Berlin, 1828-1859).
The talk will also explore the role of the publication and its artist/author, Wilhelm Zahn, in the dissemination of contemporary archaeological discoveries at Pompeii, the color theory of Goethe (a close friend of Zahn), and the beginnings of color lithography. Ultimately, the research will shed light on how designs discovered on a wall at Pompeii in 1826 came to grace a room in the newly completed US Capitol Building in the City of Washington by 1858 via two volumes of an influential elephant folio published in Berlin in 1829 and 1844 and acquired by the Library of Congress in 1849.
Dr. Elise Friedland is Associate Professor of Classics and Art History, George Washington University. She holds a BA in Classics from Williams College and an MA and PhD in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. Prof. Friedland has published two co-edited volumes, The Sculptural Environment of the Roman Near East: Reflections on Culture, Ideology, and Power (2008, Peeters Press) and The Oxford Handbook of Roman Sculpture (2015, OUP), as well as a monograph, The Roman Marble Sculptures from the Sanctuary of Pan at Caesarea Philippi/Panias (Israel) (2012). Based on a course she developed for GW, entitled “Greece and Rome in Washington, DC: Classical Influences on Our Founding Fathers,” Prof. Friedland is currently pursuing a new research project, “Pompeii on the Potomac: Brumidi’s Nineteenth-Century, Roman-Style Frescoes for the Naval Affairs Committee Room in the U.S. Capitol Building,” for which she has received a U.S. Capitol Historical Society Fellowship for Fall 2017.
The lecture is free and open to the public and will be held from 3:00 to 4:00 PM on Thursday, May 31, in the Lessing J. Rosenwald Room in the Thomas Jefferson Building.