There is an old Greek saying, which says that “no matter what kind of stone you pick up, you will find one of us under it”.
The saying of course means that no matter where you search in the world, you will find Greek people, even in the furthest places on Earth.
This is also true in the case of the United States Capitol, where the Greek presence is evermore alive and intense, and more ethereal than one can imagine.
With the latest unprecedented events that took place in Washington D.C. on January 6, and the inauguration of the 46th president of the United States, Joe Biden, the American capital has been at the centre of global attention for several weeks now.
What many people do not know is that some of the most famous ceiling paintings, portraits of historical figures and murals within the Capitol, are painted by Greek-Italian artist Konstantinos Broumidis.
Art curators from all over the world have praised Broumidis’ talent and named him the “Michelangelo of the United States”, while they have said about his work in the 1800s at the US Capitol that “through his art, Broumidis narrated the American history at the Temple of the American Republic.”
Konstantinos Broumidis was born in Rome on July 26, 1805, to a Greek father, Stavros Broumidis, and an Italian mother, Anna Biancini. His father was born and raised at Filiatra, in Messinia, and left Greece during the Orlov Revolt (Greek-Russian revolution against the Ottomans) to settle in Italy.
Konstantinos showed his talent in art and interest in painting from a very early age. He studied at the famous Accademia di San Luca in Rome, where he specialized in many techniques, including fresco painting, and learned about Greek art of the Classical period and Italian Renaissance style of painting.
Along with other acclaimed painters, Broumidis undertook the maintenance and restoration of Raphael’s frescoes within the Vatican under Pope Gregory XVI, and also painted portraits for many aristocrats in Rome, and worked at numerous palaces and villas.
Although he had established himself as an important artist at the Vatican, the unstable political situation and unrest that erupted in Italy after the French invasion in 1849, found Broumidis on the “wrong side” of things. He was therefore, asked to choose between many years of imprisonment in Italy or immigration to America – known as the New World at the time – where many Italians had already found refuge.
Soon after, Broumidis found himself on the other side of the Atlantic, originally in Mexico, and from 1852 in the USA, where he immediately started working as a painter as various Roman Catholic churches.
Shortly afterwards Broumidis was hired to illustrate the US Capitol, as part of an ambitious plan to expand the Capitol Building that had begun at that time. The people in charge of the project were looking to find Greek and Italian artists, who could decorate the Capitol and create European style sculptures and paintings, since such type of art, murals and frescoes, were not yet known by American artists.
Broumidis did some of his best work at the US Capitol, culminated the monumental composition “The Apotheosis of George Washington”, and also painted the vaulted, ornately decorated corridors at the Senate wing within the Capitol, which are known today as “The Brumidi Corridors.”
His time in the United States though did not go by smoothly. One of the political parties at the time, “The American”, was against immigrants coming to the US, and the presence of a Greek in the Capitol stimulated the xenophobic instincts of its members. The opposite political party, however, saw Broumidis’ talent and his importance in the completion of the design of the Capitol and helped him obtain an American citizenship after a few years.
He spent the last 25 years of his life in America, working as an artist and died in Washington on February 19, 1880, at the age of 74.
Konstantinos Broumidis remained in obscurity for many years, until his contribution was recognized, and by a law passed by the US Congress and signed by President George W. Bush on September 1, 2008, he was posthumously awarded the Congressional Gold Medal.