Michigan Capitol Visit: Classroom Materials Available


Throughout the year, students from across Michigan visit the State Capitol in Lansing.  Awaiting them is a trained Capitol guide who provides an informative and engaging tour of Michigan’s historic seat of government.  One of the tour stops is the soaring rotunda at the Michigan Time Traveler - Mystery of the Musesheart of the Capitol building.  There students can view firsthand the eight muses of the Italian artist Tommaso Juglaris which crown the inner dome.  The original mystery surrounding the painting and installation of the muses is usually highlighted by the guide.  However, as part of preparations for a pending Capitol visit, classroom teachers may also want to share with their students the broader story of how the eight “painted ladies” found their way to the Capitol dome and how they continue to “speak” to us today, using information available through this website.

At the time of an international exhibition of Juglaris’s paintings at the Michigan Historical Center in Lansing in 2004-2005, the museum staff partnered with Lansing Newspapers in Education, Inc., and the Lansing State Journal to publish a color-illustrated Michigan Time Traveler educational supplement for students.   Accompanied by a Teacher’s Guide, it not only explores the special history behind the Michigan Capitol muses, but also the enduring contributions that immigrants like artist Tommaso Juglaris have made to America, plus the significance of the different symbols incorporated by each muse portrait that can help us decipher what she is meant to represent.  Putting on their hats as sleuths, students often enjoy trying to identify each muse based upon whatever they are wearing and holding, as well as items that appear in either the foreground or background.  Links to Michigan Time Traveler and the Teacher’s Guide are provided.  Although (touching on a small point of controversy) these materials present the Muse of Philosophy as the Muse of Law, they otherwise remain helpful and relevant as classroom resources.

Also linked below are full page color images of each Michigan Capitol muse that can be downloaded for classroom presentation and discussion.  A separate interpretative guide for each muse is provided at the bottom of this page.


The Muse of Science 

The Muse of Industry 

The Muse of Law and Government 

The Muse of Commerce 

The Muse of Education 

The Muse of Fine Arts and Architecture 

The Muse of Philosophy 

The Muse of Agriculture



Students viewing the eight muses of the Michigan State Capitol for the first time often mistake them for the wives of past governors whose portraits hang throughout the rotunda below.  However, the muses are neither portraits nor just pretty pictures.  Instead, they are allegories rich in symbolism.  Each figure is intended to represent a different field of endeavor considered important to the present and future progress of Michigan when its citizens were celebrating its fifty-year anniversary as a state in 1886.   Based upon traditional symbols used in art work and elaborated in more detail by iconographers like Cesare Ripa, the intended meaning of each muse in the Michigan State Capitol dome can be readily deciphered and described:

THE MUSE OF SCIENCE sits beneath a starlit sky with a telescope at her side—a reminder that science depends upon direct observation.  Likewise, the protractor at her feet and the pen and stylus in her hand may call attention to the importance of measurement and record-keeping the sciences.  The muse’s hand upon the globe indicates, according to traditional allegories, a desire to master all available knowledge concerning the earth and the universe.

THE MUSE OF INDUSTRY is surrounded by manufacturing symbols, including a hammer and anvil. The ability of humanity to harness the awesome powers of nature is underscored by smoking smelters.  This muse appears to take a brief rest from her labors, assuming an almost contemplative pose.  Her white robe indicates purity.  Her red cloak and headband suggest diligence.

THE MUSE OF LAW AND GOVERNMENT holds both a scale and a naked sword in her hands, representing the responsibility of law to impartially weigh the truth and to swiftly defend and uphold what is right.  The night setting—reminiscent of a night watch—testifies to the importance of eternal vigilance—law and good government cannot afford to sleep.  Even the color of her clothing is dome_web.jpgsymbolic.  White stands for purity and green for hope.  This muse is identified with the goddess Athena of Greek myth, probably one of the most recognizable allegorical figures.

THE MUSE OF COMMERCE appears against a backdrop of unfurled sails and ship’s rigging.  Symbolized by a winged headdress and carrying a staff with serpents, known as a caduceus, she evokes Hermes, Zeus’s messenger, also regarded as the god of commerce, trade and the market.  To the Greeks and Romans, the caduceus was a symbol of truce and safe passage, necessary for trade.  To the Babylonians, however, it represented healing, which is why it was adopted in the sixteenth century as a medical symbol.  The muse’s hand upon a globe featuring an outline of the Americas suggests a western hemisphere almost within commerce’s grasp.

THE MUSE OF EDUCATION sits next to a lamp, representing learning, which burns fiercely despite broad daylight.  With one hand she steadies a ball, which represents open-mindedness and lack of prejudice.  In the other hand, she holds an open two-pointed compass, a traditional way of symbolizing such dual disciplines as logic and philosophy or grammar and letters.  As poised above two books and a scroll, the compass reminds us that the educated person should take the measure of what he or she is taught.  Although the identity of the small figure in the background is not clear, it is likely a monkey or a small ape, a traditional symbol of the arts and letters, underscoring the importance of imitation in learning: monkey see, monkey do.

THE MUSE OF FINE ARTS AND ARCHITECTURE is easily understood even by the youngest audience.  Dangling a plumb line, a tool of the building trades, from one upraised hand, she firmly grasps a palette and paint brushes in the other.  Nearby stands a bust of Pallas Athena or, in Roman mythology, Minerva, goddess of wisdom and the arts.  The capital or top of a Corinthian column, adorned with acanthus leaves, lies near the muse’s feet, and may connote the limits of fine arts and architecture—they too are subject to decay.

THE MUSE OF PHILOSOPHY sits enthroned on a monumental chair, holding a scepter in one hand, a symbol of power and dominion which may represent philosophy’s overarching importance as the discipline whose inquiries underlie all knowledge, learning and human experience.  The skull face which adorns the muse’s lower bodice near her waist is called a memento mori.  It indicates a person who not only reflects upon human mortality but also upon the purposes of human life in the face of death.  The figure on the muse’s tablet is the symbol pi, traditionally used in allegory to designate the active practice of philosophy.  In Juglaris’s original scheme for the Michigan Capitol muses, a Muse of Law was sketched but altered in final execution by the conspicuous deletion of the word “Lex” and the addition of the symbol pi to create the present Muse of Philosophy.

THE MUSE OF AGRICULTURE relaxes from her work with a shovel still in hand, surrounded by symbols of the season and fruits of the harvest.  The flowering tree represents the promise of spring.  The muse is crowned with wheat, suggesting summer when grain begins to ripen.  The fruits and vegetables at the muse’s feet are tokens of autumn’s harvest.  Given the uncertainties of farming, the muse’s cloak is appropriately dark green, symbolizing hope.