Joe Grano, chair of The Constantino Brumidi Society today protested the location of the Congressional Gold Medal presentation ceremony for Brumidi. It was held on July 11 at 11 AM in the Rayburn Room of the Capitol. For more than one year, the Brumidi Society has urged leaders in Congress, particularly House Speaker John Boehner to hold it in the Rotunda of the Capitol, beneath two of Brumidi’s greatest works of art – the Apotheosis of Washington in the dome and The Frieze of American History which circles the Rotunda. Each year, millions of visitors to the Capitol see these works and learn that the Italian-born artist painted them. Brumidi closely avoided death in a near fall while painting the Frieze in 1879. Grano was invited to the ceremony by Senator Michael B. Enzi, but politely declined writing that the venue was inappropriate. For more than a year Grano has contacted leading Members of Congress, including House Speaker John Boehner, urging that the ceremony be held in the Rotunda. He was rebuffed by the Office of the Speaker and ignored by others. Grano is now urging that Italian Americans, Greek Americans and Italophiles call their representatives and senators and ask why the ceremony was not held in the Rotunda as is customary.
Brumidi, born in Italy in 1805, arrived in the U.S. in 1852 as a political refugee, started a 25 year career as a fresco painter in the U.S. Capitol in 1855, became a citizen in 1857. He died in 1880. (Brumidi’s father was born in Greece and the Brumidi name is actually Greek – Brumidis. Greek Americans, as well as, Italian Americans, claim Brumidi as one of their own ). Besides his work in the Rotunda, he painted many rooms and corridors in the Capitol, including the Office of the Vice President, Senate Reception Room and the exquisite President’s Room.
Grano said today, “Only by holding the ceremony in the Rotunda would Congress be paying proper respect to the memory of Brumidi.” Grano also noted that Speaker Boehner approved a Gold Medal Ceremony for the Apollo 11 astronauts and John Glenn in the Rotunda on November 16, last year. “Why were the astronauts deserving of a Rotunda ceremony, but not Brumidi?” Grano asks.
The Congressional Gold Medal is the Nation’s highest award for civilian achievement. Starting in 2004, The Brumidi Society worked with various Members of Congress to have bills introduced and passed honoring Brumidi – The Artist of the Capitol. In 2008, bills introduced by Senator Enzi of Wyoming and Representative Bill Pascrell, Jr. of New Jersey passed both Houses of Congress and the legislation was signed by President George Bush on July 1, 2008, more than four years ago. (It should be noted that Senator Enzi, by his own effort, convinced all the other 99 senators to be co-sponsors on his bill, a truly remarkable and noteworthy achievement).
It has been a long-standing tradition to have the Gold Medal Ceremony take place in the Rotunda of the Capitol, our Nation’s most important and honored space. Starting in June of last year, the Brumidi Society has been urging the ceremony take place after a long delay and that it take place in the Rotunda. The leading members of Congress were contacted, particularly House Speaker John Boehner. It is generally understood that the Office of the Speaker has primary control over what happens in the Rotunda. The Speaker is the “decider,” after consultation with other leaders, over what events take place there. Indeed, in 2005, Joe Grano and others contacted former House Speaker Dennis Hastert and asked him to schedule a ceremony in the Rotunda honoring Brumidi on the 200th anniversary of his birth. Speaker Hastert graciously assented to the request and the event took place on July 26th 2005 on Brumidi’s birthday. However, in contrast to Speaker Hastert’s office, personnel in the Speaker’s Boehner’s Office were dismissive of Mr. Grano’s efforts to secure a ceremony in the Rotunda, even to the point of denying that the Speaker had control in this process.
It should be noted that Representative Nancy Pelosi could have called for the ceremony while she was Speaker in the years 2008 to 2010.
Grano said that he is mystified why Congress would have repeatedly honored Brumidi since 1950, including paying for his grave marker at Glenwood cemetery in Washington, naming a section of the Capitol building after him – the Brumidi Corridors, commissioning a bust of him for the Brumidi Corridors, twice asking the president of the United States to issue proclamations honoring him, having, at least three times itself, honored Brumidi with ceremonies in the Rotunda, commissioning a 250 page book on his life and work and finally, finally, honoring him with the Congressional Gold Medal itself, and then not take the last step of honoring him with a ceremony in the Rotunda where hundreds of Italian Americans, Greek Americans, Italophiles and art lovers could pay their respects in a public tribute. Such a ceremony would also better our relations with Italy and Greece, as the ambassadors of both countries would be invited.
Grano is urging Italian Americans, Greek Americans, Italophiles and art lovers to call their senators and representatives to protest this unseemly lapse.
Brumidi was a true patriot and was reported to have said, “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 in which there is liberty.”
The definitive account of Brumidi’s life and work is Constantino Brumidi: Artist of the Capitol prepared under the direction of the Architect of the Capitol by Barbara A. Wolanin, Curator (U.S. Government Printing Office Washington: 1998).