The Frieze of American History in the Rotunda of the United States Capitol contains a painted panorama depicting significant events in American history. The frieze’s 19 scenes is the work of three artists: Constantino Brumidi, Filippo Constaggini, and Allyn Cox. The frieze is painted in a monochrome of whites and browns that resembles sculpture. It measures eight feet four inches in height and approximately 300 feet in circumference. It starts 58 feet above the floor.
The frieze was painted in true fresco, a difficult and exacting technique in which the pigments are applied directly onto wet plaster. As the plaster cures the colors become part of the wall. Consequently, each section of plaster must be painted the day it is laid.
Begun in 1877, the Architect of the Capitol reported, "The belt of the Rotunda intended to be enriched with basso relievos [low relief] is being embellished in real fresco representing in light and shadow events in our history arranged in chronological order, beginning with the Landing of Columbus ..." The final section of the frieze was completed in 1953 and dedicated the following year.
The frieze depicts (click links below for detail of each section):
America and History
Landing of Columbus | 1492
Cortez and Montezuma at Mexican Temple | 1520
Pizarro Going to Peru | 1533
Burial of DeSoto | 1542
Captain Smith and Pocahontas | 1607
Landing of the Pilgrims | 1620
William Penn and the Indians | 1682
Colonization of New England
Oglethorpe and the Indians | 1732
Battle of Lexington | 1775
Declaration of Independence | 1776
Surrender of Cornwallis | 1781
Death of Tecumseh | 1813
American Army Entering the City of Mexico | 1847
Discovery of Gold in California | 1848
Peace at the End of the Civil War | 1865
Naval Gun Crew in the Spanish-American War | 1898
The Birth of Aviation | 1903
In 1986, Congress appropriated funds for cleaning and restoration of the frieze to remove accumulated grime, overpaint, and streaks caused by leaking water. The conservation treatment, completed early in 1987, restored the original details and vividly brought out the illusion of relief sculpture. Minor repairs were made in 1994.