US Capitol Dome and Art in Washington DC

So, we’ve already discussed how our Nations’ Capitol came to be, located here in Washington, D.C., but we didn’t talk much about the expansive interior! And this is my favorite part of our Capitol. The U.S. Capitol is visited each year by millions of people wanting to take in the awe-inspiring museum of American art and history contained within its walls. It’s not easy to become a “figure” on a US postage stamp, but our Capitol did just that!! In 1922, the U.S. Post Office featured our Nations’ Capitol.

Expansion in Washington DC

Now you may remember that all the way back in 1850 it was decided that an expansion of the Capitol would take place, this would double the length of the Capitol and would include a change to the first low dome that was built in 1818. It was decided that the dome needed to be changed because it was originally made from wood and copper which wasn’t going to stand the test to time and because its size would no longer be in appropriate proportions to the double in sized new Capitol. So, in 1855 a decision was made to remove the first low dome and replace it with a “wedding-cake” style cast iron dome, which currently stands today. And I’ll say that now seeing it without all the scaffolding that was added after the 2012 Virginia Earthquake caused significant damage, it’s a breathtaking sight to behold. The new cast iron dome was designed by Thomas Walter, stands three times higher than the original first low dome and is 100 feet (30 meters) in diameter.

Because of the weight this new cast iron dome it had to be designed as a double dome with an oculus or inner dome. Supporting “ribs” also had to be added in order to support the “Statue of Freedom” that was raised into place on top of the dome in 1863. It’s said that the cast iron dome we see today weights a whopping 8,909,200 pounds!! Now I know what you’re thinking, if the dome is cast iron, why does it look like it’s made out of the same stone as the exterior of the building?! That’s because the cast iron was meticulously painted to appear to have been made from the same stone as the rest of the Capitol building.

State of Freedom

I mentioned the bronze State of Freedom that stands atop of the Capitols dome. It stands a towing 29 feet 6 inches tall (6 meters) and weighs approximately 15,000 pounds!!! Still quite light in perspective to the overall weight of the full dome of 8,909,200 pounds! So, after a lot of research, I think the Statue of Freedom deserves its own essay. More on that later!

Capitol Rotunda

Just below the Capitol dome is the United States Capitol Rotunda. It is the tallest part of the Capitol and is the “heart” of the building. It’s 96 feet wide and reaches up into the canopy of the dome a total of 180 feet 3 inches. Standing in the Rotunda, looking up you see an expansive painting known as “The Apotheosis of Washington”. This painting took 11 months to complete by artist Brumidi. Brumidi was suspened 180 feet in the air, laying on his back to complete the painting. When I took a tour of the Capitol building after first moving to Washington, D.C. I can recall the guide telling us that Brumidi painted the entire thing in succession. What I mean by this is he started at one point and just kept going from there, he didn’t skip around and do this part one day, another part another day. That was considered risky because it’s a story going in a clock work fashion. George Washington is painted center and surrounded by 13 maidens on the inner ring with many Greek and Roman Gods/goddesses below depicted in the second ring. The Apotheosis of Washington is a chronological depiction of the history of the United States from the landing of Columbus to the Wright Brothers’ Kitty Hawk flight.


Also within the Rotunda there are 8 very large paintings. These depict the development of the United States. The four paintings on the east side depict the founding to the United Sates and the four paintings on the west side are contemporary pieces of the United States’ founding fathers and American Revolutionary War.

National Statuary Hall

AKA the Old Hall of the House is a two story, semicircular room. This room houses sculptures of prominent American’s. There are 100 statues within the National Statuary Hall Collection, each state has contributed two statues, although both state statues aren’t necessarily kept in the National Statuary Hall.

When visiting the Nations’ Capitol in Washington, D.C. I highly recommend taking a tour!