Art at the Exposition



A worthy exponent of the government which it represents is the imposing Government building. What an education and what a delight it would be were every government building erected so satisfactory and so artistic!

It is the largest building of the exposition and from its place of honor at the western termination of the lagoon court it conceals all that is insignificant behind it and surprises the spectator not only by its size and stability and by the dignity and beauty of its outlines but as being symbolical of the loyal and noble spirit for which it stands.

It is built on strictly classic lines. The main part of the building is balanced on the north and south by wings which are somewhat lower and which recede from the main portion, thus giving it by projection more importance.

On the central axis of the building, which coincides with the main axis of the lagoon court, is erected the graceful dome which is larger and higher than any other architectural motive, and which lifts itself up like a crown on the head of the exposition.

Architects say that a graceful, well proportioned dome is a most difficult thing to design, but the government's architect has been very successful and has designed a dome of beautiful curves in the renaissance style, surmounted by a lantern on which stands a figure of liberty holding aloft her lighted torch.

As this dome rests on a circular base of considerable height, it is called a stilted dome in contradistinction to the low domes, such as we see on the Art building, for example.

The base of the dome, too, is very beautiful. It is divided into six bays, in each of which are three columns—an echo of the columns below.

The dome is flanked by groups of statuary which in point of size alone are adequate to the purpose. Even as decorative sculpture it is had. The repose, the big decorative line and the pleasing silhouette which we find so satisfying in the Neptune of the electric fountain are quite lacking in the statue of Liberty, with her ragged drapery outlined against the sky. The large groups are equally disappointing and do not merit further consideration.

Several steps lead up to the main entrance, which is in the middle of the building on the main axis. The entrance portico is enclosed by majestic fluted columns with rich capitals in the Ionic order.

There is a certain added dignity and height obtained by allowing the space between the base of the columns and the ground. This space is called the stylobate.

One of the first principles of decoration is repetition. A series of vertical lines repeated was the first border designed by early savage races. The decorative effect of this principle is observed in the repetition of the long horizontal lines of the stylobate, frieze and cornice, and in the repetition of vertical lines in the columns of the bays of the two wings, as well as in the main part of the building.

Monotony has been avoided and contrast and relief obtained by the irregular projection of the central portion beyond the wings and of low projections in the wings, which cast shadows and produce an ever varying effect of light and shade. Above the columns is a plain frieze decorated simply with disks and above the frieze is the cornice surmounted by flag-staffs and old Roman lamp tripods. It is the proportion of the length to the breadth, the projection of the central part, the difference in height between the building and the dome, which show careful ornamental construction. The building as a whole is beautiful in the perfection of its harmony. Harmony in music is the result of a combination of notes which accord, and a harmonious effect is produced by a climax or strongly marked contrasts. In architecture the square and angular are expressive of rugged strength and power, curved forms of elegance and delicacy; beauty is produced by an effective combination of the right lined and the curvilinear—as exemplified in the Government building. It is the dome here which is the main theme of the harmony, and it dominates the whole with a dignity and beauty that fall nothing short of grandeur.

The dome is a renaissance creation. The fifteenth century was sheltered under the great dome of Sainte Marie-des-Fleurs at Florence, the sixteenth under that of St. Peter's at Rome, and later England was shadowed by the dome of St. Paul's at London, the eighteenth century by the dome of the Pantheon at Paris. It is to the architects of these four great renaissance cathedrals—to Brunelleschi, Michael Angelo, Wren and Soufflot—that we are indebted for the rich inheritance of the dome and the beauty of its subtle curves and proportions.

Ethel Evans.