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Quadriga: "The Progress of the State" (1906)

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Color image of the he Quadriga at the base of the Minnesota State Capitol dome, 2010. Photographed by Wikimedia Commons User Mulad (Mike Hicks).

The Quadriga at the base of the Minnesota State Capitol dome, 2010. Photographed by Wikimedia Commons user Mulad (Mike Hicks).

A gilded quadriga sculpture group titled "The Progress of the State" stands like a sentinel over the front façade of the Minnesota State Capitol. Architect Cass Gilbert commissioned Daniel Chester French, best known for the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., to do the work. He sculpted the chariot and human figures, and animal sculptor Edward Clark Potter created the horses. The Quadriga (Latin for "four-horse chariot") has greeted Capitol visitors since its installation in December 1906.

Gilbert drew inspiration for the third Minnesota State Capitol from the "White City" of the World's Columbian Exposition, held in Chicago in 1893. His earliest drawings for the building included a quadriga sculpture group over the front entrance. Gilbert had seen a quadriga created by French for the Exposition and commissioned him to produce a similar sculpture for the Capitol at a cost of $35,000.

To stay within his limited budget, French created a steel frame covered with hammered copper sheets instead of casting the pieces in bronze. The Quadriga measures twenty-one feet long, thirteen feet deep and stands twenty-five feet tall at its highest point. The estimated total weight of the group is four tons—two for the figures and two for the steel-framed base. Five pounds of tissue-thin, twenty-three-and-one-half-karat gold leaf applied over the copper gives the artwork its golden patina.

Titled "The Progress of the State," the sculpture group features a chariot pulled by four horses that represent the forces of nature: earth, wind, fire, and water. Two female figures holding the bridles control the forces of nature. They are "Agriculture" and "Industry" and together symbolize "Civilization." The charioteer is "Prosperity." He holds a staff bearing the name "Minnesota" in his left hand and cradles a horn of plenty filled with Minnesota produce in his right arm. The pineapples emerging from the hub of the chariot wheels are a symbol of hospitality. The forward motion of the group suggests the future progress of the state of Minnesota.

The "golden horses" are a highlight for the thousands of students and other visitors who tour the capitol each year. When the artwork was new, however, Channing Seabury, vice president of the Board of Capitol Commissioners, thought the completed sculpture too bright and not in keeping with the design of the building. He advised Gilbert to tone it down. Gilbert originally specified a "dull gold" finish for the Quadriga. French had intended the sculpture to have a wax coating containing a dark stain applied over the gold leaf to enhance the three-dimensionality of the piece and subdue the golden finish. Whether for economic reasons or simply an oversight, workers never applied the wax shading.

Minnesota's challenging climate has taken its toll on the Quadriga over the years. The sculpture group underwent regilding in 1949 and again in 1979. In 1994, a thorough assessment of the figures by conservators revealed a substantial amount of structural damage. The state legislature provided $636,000 for a full restoration. On August 23, a crane removed each piece of the Quadriga from the capitol roof and loaded them onto a flatbed truck bound for Fine Objects Conservation, Inc., in Westport, Connecticut. Conservator Linda Merck-Gould oversaw the work.

The year-long restoration involved replacing the corroded steel supports inside each statue, repairing the copper sheeting, installing a new support system below the sculpture group, and applying a fresh layer of gold leaf. Following French's original instructions, the restorers applied the wax coating containing a dark stain over the gold leaf to the recessed areas of each figure. The restored Quadriga returned to its perch on June 21 the following year.

During the total renovation of the Minnesota State Capitol, conservators brought the figure of the charioteer down again on September 23, 2014. Jensen Conservation Services Company in Omaha, Nebraska, restored the figure and workers reinstalled it on August 29, 2015. Each year, conservators examine the condition of the Quadriga and make minor repairs or replace sections of the gold leaf as needed.

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CMS IRN 10614709
3D Object Collection, Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul
Description: Public sculpture composed of hammered copper over steel framing, covered with 23.5-karat gold leaf, commissioned by architect Cass Gilbert for the Minnesota State Capitol from sculptors Daniel Chester French and Edward Clark Potter and executed by John Williams Inc. Bronze Foundry in New York, 1906.

Britannica Academic. s.v. "Daniel Chester French."
http://academic.eb.com/EBchecked/topic/218918/Daniel-Chester-French

Kelly, Colleen. "Charioteer Takes Flight to Make Way for Minnesota Capitol Repair." Minneapolis Star Tribune, September 23, 2014.
http://www.startribune.com/charioteer-takes-flight-to-make-way-for-capitol-repair/276731871/

Kompelien, Carolyn. "The Restoration and Preservation of Minnesota's Showplace." In Cass Gilbert, Life and Work: Architect of the Public Domain, edited by Barbara S. Christen and Steven Flanders, 125–134. New York: W.W. Norton, 2001.

Board of State Capitol Commissioners records, 1892–1914
State Archives Collection, Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul
http://www2.mnhs.org/library/findaids/sccb.pdf
Description: Biennial reports, minutes, correspondence, financial records, bids and contracts, printed materials, and miscellany relating to construction of the Minnesota State Capitol Building.

Miscellaneous records relating to the Minnesota State Capitol, 1893–1969
State Archives Collection, Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul
http://www2.mnhs.org/library/findaids/cap002.pdf
Description: Includes several remodeling or repair projects, including gold leafing on the Quadriga.

Short, Allen. "Priceless Quadriga Gallops to Regilding: Golden Horses Will Regain Their Lost Original Finish.” Minneapolis Star Tribune, August 24, 1994. http://search.proquest.com/docview/418566741/962EA87D7C964550PQ/1?accountid=12515

"State Capitol's Sculpture To Be Removed Today." Minneapolis Star Tribune, August 23, 1994. http://search.proquest.com/docview/418574434/9E78E457FA804B5DPQ/1?accountid=12515

"News of Minnesota: For the Capitol." Warren Sheaf, December 27, 1906.
http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn90059228/1906-12-27/ed-1/seq-3/

O'Sullivan, Thomas. North Star Statehouse: An Armchair Guide to the Minnesota State Capitol. St. Paul: Pogo Press, 1994.

Oxford Reference. s.v. "Edward Clark Potter (1857–1923)."
http://www.oxfordreference.com/view/10.1093/oi/authority.20111121160241287

Salisbury, Bill. "State Capitol Temporarily Loses Charioteer of the Golden Quadriga." St. Paul Pioneer Press, September 23, 2014.
http://www.twincities.com/localnews/ci_26588189/minnesota-capitol-temporarily-losing-part-golden-quadriga

“State News.” Princeton Union, January 17, 1907.
http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn83016758/1907-01-17/ed-1/seq-6/

Thompson, Neil B. Minnesota's State Capitol: The Art and Politics of a Public Building. St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2005.

Turtinen, Melissa. "It's Back! Gold Charioteer Reclaims Its Post On the State Capitol Building." Bring Me The News, April 30, 2015.
http://bringmethenews.com/2015/04/30/its-back-gold-charioteer-reclaims-its-post-on-the-state-capitol-building/

Whereatt, Robert. "Golden Horses Prance Back to Capitol." Minneapolis Star Tribune, June 20, 1995.
http://search.proquest.com/docview/418670204/92FB8C8DA1564B8DPQ/7?accountid=12515

Related Images

Color image of the he Quadriga at the base of the Minnesota State Capitol dome, 2010. Photographed by Wikimedia Commons User Mulad (Mike Hicks).
Color image of the he Quadriga at the base of the Minnesota State Capitol dome, 2010. Photographed by Wikimedia Commons User Mulad (Mike Hicks).
Black and white photograph of the Quadriga created by French for the Columbian Expo in Chicago, 1893.
Black and white photograph of the Quadriga created by French for the Columbian Expo in Chicago, 1893.
Black and white photograph of the Minnesota Capitol before the installation of the Quadriga, possibly during the dedication ceremony, 1905.
Black and white photograph of the Minnesota Capitol before the installation of the Quadriga, possibly during the dedication ceremony, 1905.
Black and white photograph of the Quadriga, Daniel C. French and Edward C. Potter, sculptors, c.1907.
Black and white photograph of the Quadriga, Daniel C. French and Edward C. Potter, sculptors, c.1907.
Black and white photograph of Daniel Chester French, 1902. Photographed by James E. Purdy.
Black and white photograph of Daniel Chester French, 1902. Photographed by James E. Purdy.
Black and white photograph of Edward Clark Potter, c.1899.
Black and white photograph of Edward Clark Potter, c.1899.
Cass Gilbert
Cass Gilbert
Black and white photograph of men posed at the Quadriga, c.1913. Photographed by Earl Conrad.
Black and white photograph of men posed at the Quadriga, c.1913. Photographed by Earl Conrad.
Black and white photograph of workers removing the gold leaf on the Quadriga at the Minnesota State Capitol, St. Paul, 1949.
Black and white photograph of workers removing the gold leaf on the Quadriga at the Minnesota State Capitol, St. Paul, 1949.
Black and white photograph of Quadriga during application of gold leaf, 1979. Photographed by Elizabeth M. Hall.
Black and white photograph of Quadriga during application of gold leaf, 1979. Photographed by Elizabeth M. Hall.
Black and white photograph of the Quadriga encased in scaffolding during application of gold leaf, 1979. Photographed by Elizabeth M. Hall.
Black and white photograph of the Quadriga encased in scaffolding during application of gold leaf, 1979. Photographed by Elizabeth M. Hall.
Color image of the Quadriga, c.1986. Photographed by Bob Firth.
Color image of the Quadriga, c.1986. Photographed by Bob Firth.
Color image of the Quadriga with lit rotunda electrolier behind, February 11, 2013. Photographed by Linda A. Cameron.
Color image of the Quadriga with lit rotunda electrolier behind, February 11, 2013. Photographed by Linda A. Cameron.
Color image of "Prosperity" prior to restoration, August 1994. Photographed by Linda A. Cameron
Color image of "Prosperity" prior to restoration, August 1994. Photographed by Linda A. Cameron
Color image of the figure of "Prosperity" being removed for restoration, September 23, 2014. Photographed by Linda A. Cameron.
Color image of the figure of "Prosperity" being removed for restoration, September 23, 2014. Photographed by Linda A. Cameron.
Color image showing the effects of Minnesota's harsh climate on the golden horses of the Quadriga, August 1994. Photographed by Linda A. Cameron.
Color image showing the effects of Minnesota's harsh climate on the golden horses of the Quadriga, August 1994. Photographed by Linda A. Cameron.
Color image of the Quadriga being prepared for reinstallation following a full restoration by Fine Objects Conservation, Inc., June 21, 1995. Photographed by Linda A. Cameron.
Color image of the Quadriga being prepared for reinstallation following a full restoration by Fine Objects Conservation, Inc., June 21, 1995. Photographed by Linda A. Cameron.
Color image of a construction crane lifting the Quadriga into place over the Minnesota State Capitol's front entrance, June 21, 1995. Photographed by Linda A. Cameron
Color image of a construction crane lifting the Quadriga into place over the Minnesota State Capitol's front entrance, June 21, 1995. Photographed by Linda A. Cameron

Turning Point

After conservators discover critical structural deterioration, the Quadriga undergoes a full restoration by Fine Objects Conservation, Inc., in Westport, Connecticut, in 1994.

Chronology

May 13, 1893

The Board of State Capitol Commissioners meets for the first time.

July 1, 1893

A bill proposing a new state capitol is passed by the Minnesota state legislature.

October 30, 1895

Architect Cass Gilbert is selected from forty-one entries to design the third state capitol building.

May 6, 1896

The ground-breaking ceremony for the third state capitol is held.

July 27, 1898

The capitol's cornerstone is laid, with former Governor Alexander Ramsey officiating.

May 19, 1903

Daniel Chester French signs the contract for the Quadriga statue.

January 3, 1905

The thirty-fourth legislative session convenes in the new capitol.

December 1906

The Quadriga sculpture group, "The Progress of the State," is installed on the capitol roof at the base of the dome.

August 1949

The Quadriga is regilded for the first time since its installation.

October 1979

The Quadriga undergoes some repair work and regilding.

August 23, 1994

The Quadriga is removed from the capitol roof and sent to Westport, Connecticut for a full restoration by Fine Objects Conservation, Inc., under the care of conservator Linda Merk-Gould.

June 21, 1995

The restored Quadriga is reinstalled on the capitol roof deck.

September 23, 2014

The figure of "Prosperity" is removed for restoration.

April 29, 2015

"Prosperity" returns to the Quadriga.