The Quadriga. . . Majestic!
Golden Prancing Horses. . . Magical!
From the Colorful Carousel Horses of my Childhood – to my Own Wonderful Horse of my Teen-age Years – I have been enthralled with the Majesty – and the Magic – of Horses.
Add Gold …
… and Golden Prancing Horses are truly Majestic Magic!
P.C. Cher B. 9/17/22
Quadriga. Even the word is enticing.
Latin for four horse chariot – a quadriga is simply a chariot pulled by four horses abreast.
But Minnesota’s Quadriga is so much more!!!
P.C. Cher B. 9/17/22
Minnesota’s Quadriga sits at the base of the dome of the State Capitol, St. Paul, Minnesota, USA.
Officially titled “The Progress of the State,” it is commonly – and appropriately – known simply as The Quadriga. It is truly a magical creation!
P.C. Cher B. 9/17/22
Travel Date to the Capitol after Dark…
As we continue our Travel Dates to explore the world outside our back door in the world class cities of Minneapolis/St. Paul, Minnesota, USA, we toured our Minnesota State Capitol again – this time at night!
Travel Tip: One of the perks of having a membership at the Minnesota Historical Society is being informed of when special MNHS tours are available – such as this one! (mnhs.org). Other MNHS sites we’ve visited include Historic Fort Snelling and the James J. Hill House.
Visitors can see the quadriga sculpture up-close only on guided tours from April through October (weather permitting). We were blessed with a beautiful, warm, clear September evening.
Getting to the top: There are 63 steps on a tight metal circular staircase to reach the base of the dome and the Quadriga. This is AFTER one has climbed nearly 150 marble steps up the 3 floors to get to the entrance to the final 63 steps. But it is well worth the effort. In our tour group was an inspirational young man who climbed the steps using crutches supported only with his arms – and a great can-do attitude! (It is accurately posted that it is not wheelchair accessible.)
Cost for the tour is reasonable with a discounted rate for MNHS members. Details at mnhs.org.
Our MNHS tour guide, Robin, was exceptional. She had great information, spoke loudly and clearly, and kept the group moving without being rushed! Most of the information on this blog is from her tour narrative.
Cass Gilbert: Architect
Minnesota’s State Capitol is one of the Midwest’s most spectacular buildings! Designed by world-acclaimed architect Cass Gilbert – famous for his design of the U.S. Supreme Court building in Washington D.C., New York City’s Woolworth Building, and more.
Having seen these other iconic buildings in person makes me even more proud to claim Cass Gilbert as architect of our Minnesota Masterpiece.
Gilbert also had a unique connection to this area. He lived in St. Paul, near University Avenue at the base of the hill that would serve as the eventual home to the new Capitol Building,
Capitol by Day
Classic & Modern
Gilbert’s goal to design a building in the classical style but with all the modern conveniences of the time, was achieved. Construction began of this Renaissance Revival-style building in 1896 and it was opened to the public in 1905.
More on my blog on the 2021 self-guided visit to the MN Capitol.
Minnesota’s dome is the third largest self-supported marble dome in the world. First is St. Peters Basilica, Vatican City (Rome, Italy) designed by Michelangelo. Second is the Taj Mahal, India.
Capitol by Day
Capitol at Sunset
As the sun slowly sets over the capitol, the transformation of the white marble and the golden horses slowly begins.
Gleaming in the light of the sun, moon or massive floodlights – the white Georgia marble covers the exterior of the State Capitol, including walls and dome. Local granite from St. Cloud, Minnesota was used for the foundation, terraces and steps. It was all carved by local Minnesota craftsmen.
Capitol at Sunset
Capitol after Dark
The Capitol is stunning and majestic in the sunlight – but truly magical at night!
Capitol after Dark
The Capitol Dome: Exterior
Inspiration for Capitol & Quadriga
Cass Gilbert’s inspiration for the Minnesota State Capitol was drawn from the “White City” of the 1893 Chicago World’s Columbian Exposition. At the event, sculptor Daniel French had created a quadriga which caught Gilbert’s eye.
In his earliest drawings for the MN capitol, Gilbert included a quadriga sculpture group over the capitol’s front entrance.
Daniel French: sculptor
Gilbert wanted the best; he found it in Daniel Chester French. French is best known for creating the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.
The sculpture group which today stands like a sentinel over the front facade of the Minnesota State Capitol was commissioned by Gilbert. French earned an unprecedented $35,000 (worth $975,807.00 in 2022).
The chariot and human figures were sculpted by French. The horses were created by animal sculptor Edward Clark Potter. The sculpture was completed and installed in 1906.
Six colossal figures reside just below the Quadriga. Representing “the Virtues,” they are sculpted in white marble from designs by French. The statues in place today are replicas carved in 1975-79 to replace the deteriorating originals.
Quadriga Fun Facts:
To keep within his limited budget, French created a steel frame with hammered copper sheets instead of casting the pieces in bronze.
The Quadriga is huge! At it highest point, it stands 25 feet tall. It measures 21 feet long and 13 feet deep. The estimated total weight of the group is 4 tons: 2 ton for the figures, 2 ton for the steel-framed base. The golden patina seen on the artwork is created by 5 pounds of tissue-thin, 23.5 karat gold leaf applied over the copper.
To accommodate Minnesota challenging climate, several restorations have been completed over the years.
Horses: Earth, Wind, Fire & Water
The four horses in the sculpture group represent the forces of nature: earth, wind, fire, and water.
A golden-robed, male, commanding charioteer – “Prosperity,” – leads the golden chariot.
Representing the state of Minnesota, he holds a staff bearing the name “Minnesota” in his left hand.
His right arm cradles a horn of plenty overflowing with Minnesota produce.
Pineapples, a symbol of hospitality, emerge from the hub of the chariot wheels. (Interestingly, pineapples are not typically associated with Minnesota!) The future progress of the State of Minnesota is suggested by the forward motion of the group.
Female Figures: Agriculture & Industry
Two golden female figures hold onto the horses’ bridles to control the forces of nature. Together they symbolize “Civilization” – plus “Agriculture” and “Industry” as symbols of Minnesota.
The Capitol Dome: Interior
The Rotunda – the large, round area in the center of the building – extends from the first floor to the inner dome, over 3 floors above. A large marble star is in the center and repeated in brass and glass. It serves as a symbol of the state motto, “The North Star State.”
Battle flags that were carried by Minnesota soldiers in the Civil War and the Spanish-American Wars are displayed, on a rotation, in glass cases against the 1st floor walls. The Senate, House of Representatives and Supreme Court chambers are entered on the 2nd floor.
Dome – from Inside
A crystal chandelier hangs from the middle of the dome, high over head. Suspended 142 feet above the Rotunda floor, it is 6 feet in diameter and weighs one ton. It is lit by 92 light bulbs, in a tiered candelabrum, inside the main sphere which contains 40,000 crystal beads strung together.
Typically, it is only lit on May 11 for Statehood Day, for a governor’s inauguration, if a governor’s body is lying in state in the Rotunda and for some MN Historical Society special events.
The allegorical story, The Civilization of the Northwest by Edward Simmons, is told in 4 large murals above the 3rd floor.
Dome – outside-inside peak
As I stood on the balcony next to the Quadriga, I got a fun surprise! Looking through a window above me, I caught a glimpse of the deep blues and gold of the inner center dome! It was one of the intriguing sights of this magical night-time visit.
The dome is a three part construction. A middle dome supports the lantern on top and an internal water drainage system.
The Grand Capitol Stairs
Cass Gilbert paid close attention to all the details in his masterpiece. This included the magnificent Capitol stairs – hundreds of them (I counted!) – made of beautiful St. Cloud, Minnesota granite.
Gilbert commissioned works of art to created by some of the nation’s best artists and placed them throughout the building. A list of art and where it can be seen can be found on the website (mnhs.org/capitol/learn/art/list).
The 2nd floor is the “grand floor”. Here resides the chambers of the Senate, the House of Representatives and the Supreme Court.
The vaulted ceilings of the 1st and 3rd floor corridors are decorated with hand-painted arabesques and designs of grains and fruits grown in Minnesota.
More than 20 types of stone are used in the halls, stairways, columns and chambers.
Limestone from Kasota and Mankato, Minnesota, is prominent among the numerous Minnesota stones used on the walls.
A highlight – and a “must experience” for any visitor to the Capitol – is another of Gilbert’s designs!
It is the unique three story, cantilevered oval stairs in the northeast corner of the capitol.
Cantilevered stairs are a type of staircase that has a “floating” appearance. The cantilever is a beam that is anchored at only one end.
Minnesota Government Chambers
The House of Representatives
The largest chamber in the building, this is used for both regular House and joint sessions. The 134 representatives are elected for two years.
An impressive sculpture group in the front titled “Minnesota: the Spirit of Government” overlooks the House chamber. Under this sits the topmost desk reserved for the Speaker of the House.
Ceiling Dome of the House
Impressive on all levels is the ceiling dome of the House. It is one example of many decorative areas in the capitol. It is packed with symbolism and was designed by Elmer E. Garnsey, the director of decorations during the original construction.
Dome of the House: Interior
The interiors of the domes are as impressive as they are from the exterior. Gilbert used skylights to maximize natural lighting throughout the building.
Public galleries, which may be entered from the third floor, face the sculpture group in the front over the Speaker.
Dome of Senate: Exterior
One perk of the rooftop visit at night was seeing the St. Paul Skyline from the top of the Capitol. It was breathtaking!
My favorite view was of the Cathedral of St. Paul, seen glowing in the distance.
I was intrigued by the exterior view of the top of the Senate ceiling dome in the west wing as seen here. A matching one over the House is on the east wing.
(Note: during our visit, these flags were flying half-staff to honor the death of Queen Elizabeth II of England)
Senate, Supreme Court & Governor’s Reception Room
Visiting the capitol at night, without the hubbub of the daytime activities was almost surreal. The Senate chamber seats the 67 senators (4-year terms) with the front dais for Senate officers and president. A public viewing area can be accessed during legislative sessions from the 3rd floor.
The importance in the state’s history of agriculture, patriotism, and the Mississippi River are showcased in the magnificent murals on the side walls by Edwin Blashfield.
The Supreme Court
Minnesota’s highest court, oral arguments are heard in this chamber by the chief justice and 6 associate justices.
Concepts of the legal system from different and diverse time periods and cultures are symbolized by 4 large murals by John LaFarge. One shows a scene with Moses (moral and divine law). Another is of Socrates (relation of individual to the state). A third is Confucius (recording of precedents). Lastly is of Medieval Count Raymond of Toulouse, France (adjustment of conflicting interests).
Ornately carved, wood benches designed by Cass Gilbert face the justices for visitors who come to hear the court sessions. (Note: We sat on them while we enjoyed a live interpreter and discovered that they were certainly not designed for comfort – possibly to discourage anyone for staying too long?!)
Governor’s Reception Room
Minnesotan’s have probably seen this room – but more often viewed on TV than in person! It is a functioning workplace for meetings and press conferences throughout the year. Hence, availability to visitors may be limited day-to-day. The governor’s personal office opens onto this room.
Ornately decorated, darkly stained, white oak woodwork and plaster of Paris symbols of Minnesota are overlaid with gold-tinted metal leaf. Sitting in the center of the room, amidst other historic furniture, is an original hand-carved mahogany table designed by Cass Gilbert.
Governor’s Reception Room: the Decor
Minnesota’s involvement in the Civil War can be seen in the large wall paintings, recently restored. A reproduction of the original carpet was installed in the recent restoration.
In 1984 this was the first room to be restored to its original appearance.
A Place to Visit
A visit to the top of the Minnesota State Capitol to see the Golden Quadriga up close at any time of day is a fabulous experience.
A visit after dark is magical!
Thanks for the opportunity to share this fun experience with you! If you enjoyed this blog post, I’d love to hear from you! Vote your approval with a “like.” Your comments encourage me as we pursue and share future Travel Dates! Want to get a notice in your in-box when a new blog is posted? Check out options at the bottom of this post. Thanks! ~Cher
- Robin, MNHS tour guide of “The Quadriga Tour at Night” 17 September 2022, 8:00 pm tour. Robin’s expert tour narrative provided the primary information on this blog, supported by other sources listed below.
- Brochure: 6 Capitol Highlights, Minnesota State Capitol, by Minnesota Historical Society, 2022
- Brochure: Self-Guided Tour, Minnesota State Capitol, by Minnesota Historical Society, 2022
- kare11.com/article/features/state-capitol-chandelier-draws-crowd/. 28 September 2022
- minnpost.com/mnopedia/2016/03/why-quadriga-sculpture-state-capitol-has-pineapple-wheels-and-other-fun-facts/. 28 September 2022
- mn.gov/caapb/capitol-area/capitol-building/. 28 September 2022
- mnhs.org/capitol/learn/art/8857. 28 September 2022
- mnhs.org/capitol/learn/art/list. 28 September 2022
- saving.org/inflation/. 28 September 2022