For Constantino Brumidi, there was no higher honor, or greater calling than to be an American citizen. It was a title he sought and then signed with pride on some of his best work. That experience isn’t unique to Constantino Brumidi though. The same call that he heard -- to come to America-- continues to be heard every day as more and more people from all over the world come to the United States in the pursuit of a dream and the freedom that marks our way of life.
For my own family, it wasn’t all that long after Constantino Brumidi left for America, that my own ancestors heard the call for freedom and came here as well. Just like Constantino Brumidi they left the beauty of Italy – its mountains and its sunny shores – to come and be a part of the great adventure that is the United States.
If you walk through these halls late at night you can almost hear whispers of the past and the hushed echoes of the voices of our Founding Fathers, past Senators and Representatives as they debated and discussed the issues of the day.
While walking through this living history, that is when it hits you – that the story of the United States isn’t a random series of events, but the result of the vision and heartfelt commitment of those who played an active role in our history. As an Italian American it gives me a great sense of pride to know that one of those great Americans was Constantino Brumidi.
The history books tell us that Constantino Brumidi was born in Rome of Italian and Greek heritage. He had a great talent for painting that revealed itself at an early age. This talent was already beginning to earn him a reputation as one of Europe’s great artists when he heard a different call – a call to make more beautiful the home of democracy and liberty – the United States of America.
One day, after completing a commission, Constantino Brumidi stopped in Washington, DC, to visit the Capitol on his way home. Looking at its tall, blank walls and empty corridors, he must have felt the excitement and inspiration only an artist facing an empty canvas can know. On that day he began what was more than an assignment for him – it was a labor of love – as he brought to life the great moments in American history for all to see on the walls and ceiling of this great building. His efforts were destined to earn him the title of “America’s Michelangelo.”
There aren’t many quotes attributed to Constantino Brumidi, but one that appears on the marker where he’s buried is a beautiful expression of his love for our country:
“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.”
That is the philosophy that guided Constantino Brumidi’s hand as it fired his imagination and inspired his creations in our nation’s Capital. Imagine what he would think if he could walk these corridors today. He would see that his beautiful work has stood the test of time, especially after being cleaned up from accumulated lamp smoke. He would know of the appreciation and admiration of countless visitors from our shores and around the world. He would see that his art continues to thrill the millions who flock here every year. I believe he would be both proud and humbled to be the center of such attention.
It is only fitting that over the years Constantino Brumidi has become a symbol of all those who came to the United States in pursuit of a dream. It was freedom and liberty that drew Constantino Brumidi to our land and it is what continues to draw us together.
Throughout the Capitol, each careful stroke of Brumidi’s brush will continue to remind us that we are blessed and truly fortunate to live in a land of promise and opportunity, where we are all called to greatness. Constantino Brumidi dared to be great and he will forever be remembered for the gifts and talents he shared with us.
Now it is only fitting that the Congress of the United States of America should bestow on Constantino Brumidi this nation’s highest civilian honor – the Congressional Gold Medal.
And now I would like to introduce my colleague and fellow Italian-American, Senator Pat Leahy of Vermont. He was one of the original sponsors on my Senate Constantino Brumidi bill and helped me gather every single Senator’s support for this bill. Senator Leahy is the Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and is a senior member of both the Agriculture and Appropriations Committee. My fellow Italian, Senator Pat Leahy.