A highlight of the Michigan State Capitol in Lansing are the eight muses that ring the Capitol dome. During the latest restoration, it was learned that they were painted in the late 19th century by Italian artist Tommaso Juglaris. Michigan’s Otherside relates the story of the Mysterious Painter of the Michigan State Capital Muses:
The paintings are absolutely gorgeous, and for years, historians believed they might have been the work of Lewis Ives, an artist who has other pieces in the Capitol. Then, in 1992, a visitor named Geoffrey Drutchas entered the building, looking for works by a nineteenth-century Italian artist. Drutchas’ inquiry led to an investigation that ultimately revealed the paintings’ true creator. But more on that later; first, a quick background on how the muses became a part of the Capitol in the first place.
The current state Capitol opened in 1879. For the first few years of its existence, the Capitol’s walls were bare, as the state couldn’t spare any money for artwork. Eventually, the state had extra cash, so the legislature commissioned William Wright, owner of a Detroit decorating company, to handle interior design duties. The Capitol’s architect, Elijah Myers, said that he wanted allegorical paintings (in other words, paintings whose subjects look like one thing, but represent something else) to appear above the Capitol rotunda. That’s how the Capitol ended up with its muses. At first glance, the women in the paintings that Wright delivered to the Capitol are simply figures from Greek mythology; however, if a viewer looks at the paintings closely, he or she finds that each muse holds or is surrounded by items that represent a specific aspect of Michigan’s economy and culture.
Read on for more, and also see State Capital historian Kerry Chartkoff’s lecture on Michigan’s Capitol: Muses, Memoirs at Michigan State University.