Thursday, May 26, 2011

Illinois State Capitol

Entering the Illinois State Capitol in Springfield, I thought a tour would not be possible.

The halls of the 134-year-old building were filled with two large groups of visitors, one wearing red shirts and the other wearing green shirts, which identified the groups' respective causes.

Add to these groups the members of the media covering the groups' causes, members of the legislature, their staff, lobbyists, the Capitol staff, and a few visitors wandering the halls at a more leisurely pace and you have noise and animated activity--all, supposedly, in the conduct of the people's business.

The architectural style has been described as a synthesis of eighteenth century baroque and nineteenth century classical that was common in public buildings constructed in the period following the Civil War.

The Capitol rotunda is the center of this activity. Located over the rotunda is the impressive dome, rising 361 feet above the ground. I found a place next to one of the pillars and spent a good amount of time studying the art and architecture of the dome.

I later learned that at the very top of the dome an eagle carries a banner with the phrase “State Sovereignity” (sic) placed above “National Union.” This is opposite of what appears on the “official” Great Seal of Illinois. The placement of the phrases was the topic of significant debate during the adoption of the seal in the 19th century.

A plaster frieze encircles the dome above the corbel statues. The frieze (in the photos, right and below), painted to resemble bronze, is considered by many to be some of the best artwork in the Capitol.

Several of the scenes, e.g., Abraham Lincoln and Steven A. Douglas, in their great campaign of 1858, can be identified, but there is some doubt as to other events depicted in the scenes, because the artist, T. Nicolai died before it was wholly completed.

The central rotunda separates the north, south, east, and west wings which comprise the cross and are all three stories in height.

A walk down the east wing provided ample opportunity to admire the architec-tural detail along the walls and ceiling.

The ceiling painting below, as well as the early murals in the north and south halls of the first floor were done by unknown artists of the Phillipson Decorative Company of Chicago in 1886.

The painting (right) is identified as "Faith" and shows a woman of religion holding a cross.

One of the eight murals added to the walls of the north and south corridors of what is now the first floor of the Capitol around 1885 is shown below. This mural in the south hall shows "Future Governor Edward Coles Freeing His Slaves While Enroute to Illinois, 1819".

Unfortunately the names of the artists who painted the eight original murals are unknown.

This is a view of the rotunda from the second floor.

The 40' x 20' depiction (right) of George Rogers Clark negotiating with Native Americans at Fort Kaskaskia in 1778 is the largest painting in the Capitol and is identified as the Grand Staircase painting on the third floor. It was done by Gustav A. Fuchs, a German immigrant from Chicago, and completed in 1886. The painting has been criticized because the Indian culture portrayed was never found in Illinois.

There was little activity on the Illinois State Senate floor on the day of this visit.

I wondered how many of the people who work in this magnificent building take time to admire the details of the art and architecture.

Maybe that luxury is enjoyed by us tourists.

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