Stop 15. The Rotunda: Dome and Apse



John Marciari, Charles W. Engelhard Curator of Drawings and Prints
The Rotunda is capped by a domed ceiling with a central oculus. The dome is adorned with paintings, some simulating marble reliefs or mosaics. This decoration was undertaken by Harry Siddons Mowbray, who also painted the lunettes in the Rotunda and the East Room. Around the central skylight are female personifications of Religion, Art, Science, and Philosophy. The overall layout of the dome is based on the ceiling in the Stanza della Segnatura of the Vatican Palace, painted by Raphael during the Italian Renaissance. The architect Charles Follen McKim studied that ceiling and adjusted a few details, such as the format of the paintings simulating reliefs, to work with the proportions of his dome. Mowbray also studied the same ceiling, and his paintings in the Morgan dome emulate the mellowed tones that characterized Raphael’s frescoes before their recent restoration.

In the semicircular apse, opposite the original entrance, are two rows of white stucco reliefs against a blue background. The vertical panels depict allegorical figures while the octagonal ones are devoted to Roman deities. Although Mowbray made the ceiling paintings in his studio and later mounted them in this space, these reliefs were modeled on site, so that Mowbray could study the way they interacted with the ambient light.

See Raphael ceiling in the Stanza della Segnatura, Vatican