Congressman Bill Pascrell

Representing the 9th District of NEW JERSEY

To Award Posthumously a Congressional Gold Medal to Constantino Brumidi

Jun 10, 2008
Floor Speech

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   Mr. PASCRELL. Mr. Speaker, I am very proud to stand in strong support of S. 254, or H.R. 1609 in the House, to award this posthumous Congressional Gold Medal to Constantino Brumidi which would be displayed in the Capitol Visitor's Center. This American immigrant was the creator of some of the most beautiful works of art in the United States Capitol Building.

   As the sponsor of the House version of this bill and as cochair of the Congressional Italian American delegation, this is an issue very close to me, Mr. Speaker.

   Now, these things don't happen in a vacuum. I want to express my sincere gratitude to Senator Enzi and Senator Clinton, to Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, to Congressman John Mica, to Congressman Zack Space and Gus Bilirakis, and my very close friend Gary Ackerman, John Sarbanes, Michael Burgess, and Rick Renzi for their tireless work in garnering support for this worthy initiative.

   If it were not for the diligent advocacy efforts of the Constantino Brumidi Society, the American Hellenic Educational Progressive Association, and the National Italian American Foundation, we would not be standing here today. It's as simple as that.

   Born in Rome of Italian and Greek heritage in 1805, Constantino Brumidi trained in drawing, painting and sculpture at Rome's prestigious Accademia di San Luca.

   In 1840, this rigorous artistic training was put on display when Brumidi and several other artists were commissioned to restore the richly decorated frescos in the Vatican Palace.

   He immigrated to the United States in 1852, with nothing in his pocket, and when he died, he had nothing in his pocket. His only objective was to come here and become an American citizen, and he did that in 5 years. He gave it all, as you walk through this beautiful edifice of freedom that everyone knows all over the world.

   In 25 years, from 1854 to 1879, he decorated the Capitol with murals and frescos. His frescos in this Capitol were probably the first true frescos to be painted in the United States of America.

   Brumidi believed that the classical architecture of the Capitol Building required real fresco, like the palaces of Augustus and Nero, and the baths of Titus and Livia at Rome, and the admired relics of the painting at Herculaneium and Pompei.

   His art drew heavily on his training and experience in Rome, incorporating the history and symbols of the United States into his classical repertoire. His most significant influences included ancient Greek and Roman wall paintings and Raphael's classical decoration in the Vatican.

   Although he's often called the Michelangelo of the Capitol, this immigrant who came here and gave everything to this country, Brumidi perhaps should be called the Raphael of the Capitol, since it was Raphael who was his greatest inspiration.

   Brumidi's creations in the Capitol Building include his masterpiece, the allegorical fresco, ``The Apotheosis of Washington,'' in the 4,664-square foot canopy over the eye of the dome, 180 feet above the floor of the Rotunda. He also painted the extensive frescos in the Brumidi corridors throughout this Capitol.

   His last years were spent painting the historic scenes in the Rotunda frieze, even carrying out his own historic research for his work.

   Outside of his work in this Capitol, he also was well-connected in the Catholic church. His commissions included altar pieces and murals in important cathedrals in Mexico City, New York City, Washington, Baltimore, and Philadelphia.

   The consummate American, Brumidi is reported to have remarked: ``My one ambition and my daily prayer is that I may live long enough to make beautiful the Capitol of the one country on Earth which there is liberty.''

   Sadly, at the time of his death in 1880, as I said, he was penniless. Following his death, his work was roundly criticized by the artistic establishment of his day. However, the 1970s, not that far long ago, brought a renewed appreciation for Victorian architecture and decoration and the growth of the historic preservation, and work was done to restore Brumidi's art to its former glory. Today's scholars are able to fully comprehend the full extent of his talent.

   Even though he is long gone, it is imperative that we fully recognize the transcendental beauty, the intricate grace he brought to the building that we stand in and that we work in every day.

   There is widespread bipartisan support for this initiative. You heard how many cosponsors in the Senate, as my good friend from West Virginia pointed out how many, 307, right here in the House of Representatives. What great testimony.

   I urge my colleagues, Mr. Speaker, to support this legislation and to remember the background of this individual, his Italian and his Greek heritage, and think of all the immigrants when we think of Brumidi and his contributions.