Meaning And Identity In Public Art

While visiting the Capitol Square, I felt like I had stepped back into an ancient

Greek culture. From the colossal pillars supporting the building to the bronze statues of

Greek goddesses among our “war heroes” it is easy to mistake the Capitol building for a

Greek temple. I want to share with you what the architecture communicated to me, what

the subject of the art was that I observed, and why the building was placed where it now


Anyone who possesses basic knowledge about ancient Greece could surely see the

similarities between Greek temples and the Capitol building. There is even an inscription

on the Capitol building stating it is a “Greek revival structure”. The building has many

similarities to a Greek temple such as: the building appears to be symmetrical (Greeks

strived for perfection), has large pillars for support, and looks the same from every angle.

A perfect example of these characteristics from Greek history is the “Temple of Artemis

at Ephesus around 356 BC, which was great in size, symmetrical and elaborately

ornamented” according to the Stars of History webpage. On the inside of the Capitol you

can also see how much detail was put into the construction of the building. There are

bunches of grapes carved into solid wood at every door, all of the tiles and stairways are

made of marble, everything on the interior matches perfectly, there are elaborate carvings

all over the building, as well as beautiful brass light fixtures that give off a beautiful

golden glow. Yet another building that exemplifies the previously stated characteristics is

The Mausolus of Halicarnassus, built mostly of marble and highly detailed and decorated

in bronze and wood carvings by the leading Greek sculptor of the age (around 353 BC) as

a tomb for King Mausolus of Caria (Mckay, Hill, and Buckler). What all this detail says

to me is that this is a place where powerful people work and where many important

functions of the city take place. I gain a sense that whoever is employed here has a great

deal of wealth, be it in knowledge or money, and tremendous authority. The Greeks saw

their rulers as being next to godliness, and in a way, the people who work here are our


The subject of the art that I observed had a theme of peace, war, nobility, and

discovery. The first statue I saw was a large monument made of bronze and marble. The

monument featured Ulysses S. Grant, James A. Garfield, Phillip Sheridan, William T.

Sherman, Rutherford B. Hayes, Salmon Chase, and Edwin Stanton standing under a

Greek goddess (who resembles Ceres because she is surrounded by bushels of wheat and

grains) with a quote under her that says “These are my jewels”. These men were by far

the greatest men to come from Ohio and just like the Greeks who cast their heroes in

bronze, so have we cast our heroes for all to see in bronze at the Capitol. The next

monument I saw was a huge angel in bronze that included an inscription about peace.

Then, on another side of the building, there are two monuments to the soldiers that went

to fight at Iwo Jima. These walls contain etched letters from various soldiers, some of

them are happy letters while others are very sad. There seemed to be many monuments to

war than anything else. The monuments about war weren’t sad though, they actually

glorify all of the people who have fought for our country as well as the publics support of

freedom. The last monument I saw represented discovery. I had Christopher Columbus on

top of it and the base below him had tiles in it with pictures of mans greatest discoveries.

In ancient cultures the temple was the “city center” and I believe that is the role

that the city was trying to establish when they built the Capitol building. The building is

located on two of the most traveled roads in Columbus. It is also in a place where people

traveling in any direction on those roads can see it. I think that it was placed in this

location to symbolize that government is the base of civilization as well as any city. The

building is in the heart of the city which also says to me that there should be a high

concentration on politics and that the public should be involved as well. As I left the

Capitol building that evening, I walked away with a better understanding of Greek culture

and how it relates to modern architecture as well as art.

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