John McCaslin

Among 49 recommendations, the board proposes the establishment of a National Declassification Center, saying the current system is ill-equipped for future challenges.

Capitol illusion

An artistic "illusion" has been unfolding in Room H-144, the hearing room for the House Committee on Appropriations.

H-144 was the first room in the U.S. Capitol decorated with murals by Constantino Brumidi, the "Michelangelo of the United States Capitol," who finished the two-year project in 1856. Because the room was assigned to the Agriculture Committee, he painted the Four Seasons on the vaulted ceiling.

But not until nearly 20 years ago, says the Architect of the Capitol, was it discovered that the walls of the room were painted by Brumidi in true fresco to resemble stone, with "illusionistic" carved moldings forming arches — the only room in the Capitol known to have been painted entirely in true fresco from floor to ceiling.

The room was coated in oil-based paint after a small fire in 1920, even though only 2 square yards of the frescoed wall was damaged. Since then, coat after coat of paint has covered the masterpiece.

But in a test project during the August 2004 recess workers painstakingly removed a section of paint, and the results were outstanding. Subsequent restoration "has made the illusionistic carvings above look even more convincingly three dimensional and vivid," the Architect states.

John McCaslin

John McCaslin is a contributing columnist on and author of Inside The Beltway: Offbeat Stories, Scoops, and Shenanigans from around the Nation's Capital .

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