Frescoes by Constantino Brumidi on the first floor of the Senate wing, United States Capitol. Photo: United States Capitol Historical Society

The Engineer and the Artist: Montgomery Meigs, Constantino Brumidi and the Capitol Frescos

November 9, 2010
On the evening of November 9, 2010, U.S. Senate Historian Donald Ritchie presented a lecture on the relationship between United States Army engineer Montgomery Meigs and Constantine Brumidi.

Brumidi was an Italian fresco painter who, together with Meigs, transformed the interior of the U.S. Capitol during the building's mid-19th century expansion.

Many American artists and critics were incensed at the idea that the decoration of the Capitol's walls and ceilings should be entrusted to an Italian immigrant, but General Meigs staunchly defended his choice of Brumidi, whom he described as an artist "full of genius and talent" who could design "with a fertility which is astonishing to me." Their partnership ended during the Civil War when President Lincoln appointed Meigs Quartermaster of the Union Army. Brumidi devoted another twenty years to the work he began under Meigs's supervision, decorating the Capitol with vivid scenes from American history mixed with figures from classical mythology.

Ritchie based his presentation in part on the contents of Meigs' diaries, which were only recently translated from their original shorthand. Ritchie is a frequent contributor of historical commentary on C-SPAN and NPR, and has also published a number of books, including Press Gallery: Congress and the Washington Correspondents; Reporting from Washington: The History of the Washington Press Corp; Electing FDR: The New Deal Campaign of 1932; and The U.S. Congress: A Very Short Introduction.

Past Lectures