“My one great 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.”
Constantino Brumidi (1805-1880) included designs for more than 350 individual birds of at least 100 species in the Senate corridors that today bear his name. This finely rendered aviary is part of a sophisticated decorative scheme inspired by early 15th-century Renaissance frescoes in the Vatican Palace. Brumidi's interpretation in the U.S. Capitol integrates classical and Renaissance imagery with flora and fauna specific to America, including hundreds of accurately rendered and identifiable native bird species.
Interest in ornithology, and birds of the Americas in particular, burgeoned in the 19th century. Birding expeditions, ornithological societies, and a growing number of publications popularized the profession and generated public interest in newly introduced species. The corridors would have made an interesting statement to a public attracted to ornithology, for Brumidi included birds whose habitat was beyond the range of the typical late 19th-century Capitol visitor.
What models did Brumidi and his team of artists utilize when rendering the birds of the Capitol? Accuracy of plumage, eye, and leg colors, each specific to its particular species, suggests that Brumidi must have referred to reliable ornithological sources. A guide book to the Capitol published in 1874 states that Brumidi sketched bird specimens found in the Smithsonian Institution's collection.