• Statuary Groupings
  • Queen Isabella

Only a Few Originals Remain

Pietro Mezzara, California's first major sculptor, created the statuary for the Capitol's rooftop and the pediment. Thirty figures, urns, and emblems adorned the Capitol in 1873.

The groups designed for the north and south porticos, and for flanking the frontoon [sic] will be each fourteen feet long by ten feet high. At each corner of the building will be placed statues eleven from 12 feet high representing respectively “War,” “Peace,” and “Force,” and on the intervening pedestals between corners and centers will be placed and arranged six statues seven feet high – “Fame,” “Eloquence,” and “Verity” – and 14 richly ornamented and figured vases from three-and-one-half to five-and-one-half feet high. All of these groups, statues, and vases are to be cast in solid stone by the Pacific Stone Company…By the terms of the contracts the work is to be fully finished and in place before the adjournment of the next Legislature. The total cost of artist and mechanical work, materials and finishing, will be $34,500.

Sacramento Daily Union, September 4, 1872

These elements were removed during the Capitol's 1906 renovation and subsequently lost. Today only the statuary on the west front pediment tympanum (the recessed space enclosed by the triangular pediment) is original. These statues reflect the Capitol's roots in Greek architecture. In Grecian times statuary was considered part of the building, not as mere decoration. It was a way to visually communicate and transmit epics and mythology in a largely illiterate society.

A Gift of Generosity and Controversy

A large statuary group titled Columbus’ Last Appeal to Queen Isabella has occupied a prominent position at the center of the first floor rotunda since 1883 when Darius Ogden Mills gifted it to the State of California. In a letter read at the dedication of the statue, Mr. Mills wrote the sentiment, “that the Rotunda of our State Capitol is an appropriate place for a work of art commemorating an event that had so great an influence on the destinies of the western world.”

Larkin Goldsmith Meade, an American artist in his studio near Florence, Italy, carved the Carrara marble statue. Legrand Lockwood commissioned the sculpture for his Norwalk, Connecticut, mansion. Meade began the project in 1868 and completed it six years later. Mrs. Lockwood, after the death of her husband, sold the sculpture to D.O. Mills for $30,000.

Mills had been a prominent Sacramento banker and a long-time advocate of Sacramento being established as California's capital. He organized a fundraising effort among local merchants and secured money for the purchase of the original plot of land upon which the Capitol was to be built. His continued support for Sacramento and the Capitol was reflected when he decided to gift the statuary group to the California State Capitol. At the full expense of Mills, workers prepared an appropriate pedestal on which the statue was to be placed. He also funded the cost of shipping the sculpture from the East Coast, which arrived in Sacramento in the summer of 1883.

Edgar Mills, Darius Ogden Mills’ brother and a former Capitol Commissioner, presided over the official dedication ceremony for the statue on December 17, 1883. During the dedication Edgar read a letter his brother had written to Governor Stoneman. In the letter Darius expressed his sentiment that the Capitol Rotunda was the appropriate place for the work of art. In reading his brother's words Edgar added his own sentiment by proclaiming, “that California, more than any other state in the American Union, fulfills [Columbus’s] visions of marvelous lands beyond the setting sun.”

Not all of California’s citizens agree with Mills that a statue of Columbus is appropriate for the Capitol Rotunda. Before the restoration in the 1970s, members of the Native Sons of the Golden West and other groups suggested that the Legislature relocate the statue and replace it with another statue of an important Californian. After all, Columbus himself never made it to within a couple thousand miles of California. During the restoration Native American and Latino groups, critical of Columbus’s legacy in ushering in an era of genocide and colonialism for the Native Peoples of the Western Hemisphere, advocated that the statue not be returned to its former location after its temporary removal during the restoration. Despite such criticism, the statue was returned to the Capitol Rotunda.

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California State Capitol Museum
10th and L Streets
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1315 10th Street
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