September 21, 2015
Last winter, the first newly carved Corinthian capital was installed on one of the Rotunda’s south-side portico columns. Observers held their breaths as a crane carefully lifted the 6,300-pound ornate capital to the top of a column almost 40 feet above.
Over the past year, master artisans of Pedrini Studio in Carrara, Italy, transformed blocks of marble into replicas of Thomas Jefferson’s original Carrara marble capitals for the Rotunda. The brilliant new capitals replace 118-year-old crumbling capitals that were part of the McKim, Mead & White revisioning of the Rotunda following the 1895 fire.
At the ceremony marking the installation of the south portico’s first new capital, President Teresa Sullivan celebrated the occasion and explained the need for longer-lasting Carrara marble, “This is the material Jefferson chose, and he chose well,” she said.
“This is the material Jefferson chose, and he chose well.”
–President Teresa A. Sullivan
Indeed. Marble for the new capitals was hewn from the quarry that birthed the original—and more durable—capitals. The Carrara marble marks a return to Jefferson’s vision for the Rotunda, featuring capitals with exquisite detail of classical foliage symbolizing long life and the flourishing of intellect.
Students are learning from the renovation process. Civil engineering major Grace Zammitti (Engineering ‘15) spent time shadowing facilities staff members. “A construction manager took me up on Phase I to the roof, which was one of the coolest experiences I have ever had, to stand on the roof of the Rotunda and look down on the Lawn. It totally changed my perspective of the Lawn.”
In 2014, alumni and friends met a $1 million challenge grant from the Mary Morton Parsons Foundation to support the carving and installation of new capitals. Thanks to critical momentum gained from this important milestone, the Rotunda restoration is on track for completion for 2016 Final Exercises.
What’s next? Following reopening celebrations next spring, the Rotunda will be repositioned more fully into the center of academic life through increased classroom, study, and ceremonial use—becoming a more vibrant realization of Jefferson’s ideal educational setting.