Home -> John J. Newbegin -> The Jewel City -> Chapter VI. The Court of the Universe

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The Court of the Universe

Most important of the three great courts of the "Walled City" - A meeting-place of East and West - Roman in its architecture and atmosphere, suggesting the vast Piazza of St. Peter's Triumphal Arches of the Nations - Their types of the great races of Orient and Occident - Fine mural paintings by Simmons and Du Mond - Fountains of the Rising and the Setting Sun - Aitken's "Elements" - The "Column of Progress."

The court is the key to the scheme of the palace group of the Exposition. Leaving out the state and foreign quarters, and the other suburbs, and omitting the Fine Arts Palace and Machinery Hall, which, from a purely architectural standpoint, are merely balanced ornaments needed to complete the whole, the Exposition city is a palace of blank walls enclosing three superb courts.

The court is an essential element of the Oriental architecture of the Mediterranean, which provided the theme of the Exposition plan. There, however, it is the patio, the place of the siesta, the playground of the children. Here the courts have been made the chief architectural feature of the group. There the courts are private. Here they are merely hidden.

The central court at the Exposition, the largest and the most splendid, is the Court of the Universe. (See p. 63.) It is the most important, too, in the story which its sculptures tell, and in its relation to the purpose of the Exposition. Whether it is also the most beautiful is a matter about which opinions differ. Many persons admire Mullgardt's romantic Court of Ages beyond anything else, while others are in love with the calm Court of Seasons. Paradoxically, the Court of the Universe suffers from its very magnificence. It is so vast that the beholder is slow to feel an intimate relation with it. The same is true of some of the noblest sights in nature. First seen, there is something disappointing in the Grand Canyon. There is too much in the view to be comprehended until after many days. In this court, the visitor is pleased with its splendid proportions, its noble arches, its rich sculpture, the wonderful blending of its colors with those of sea and sky; but the pleasure at first is of the intellect rather than of the emotions. Like other big and really fine things, it grows on one. The sweep of its colonnades is majestic, the arches are noble monuments, the Column of Progress is inspiring, the fountains show a graceful play of water, the sculpture is big, strong, and significant; the flowers of the sunken garden are a glory long to be remembered.

The Court of the Universe is Roman in architecture, treated in the style of the Italian Renaissance. Its commanding features, the Triumphal Arches and the magnificent flanking colonnades are most Roman in spirit, their Italian decoration appearing in the medallions and spandrels of the arches, the garlands hung along the entablature of the colonnade, and the interior adornment of the vaulted corridors. The columns, including the huge Sienna shafts before the arches and the Tower of Jewels, are Roman Corinthian, with opulent capitals, though not too florid when used in a work of such vast extent. Most Roman of all is the great Column of Progress, at the north end of the court.

McKim, Mead and White of New York, the architects, had the Piazza of St. Peter's at Rome in mind when they designed this great sweep of colonnades. There, too, they borrowed from the circle of saints the idea of the repeated Star figure. The colonnade not only encloses the court but is produced along the sides of the Palaces of Agriculture and Transportation to form two corridors of almost Egyptian vastness. These two features, the arches and the colonnades, here at the center of the palace group, strike the Exposition's note of breadth. Their decoration is the key to the festal richness of all the adornment.

By day the four entrances to the court are its finest features. Nowhere in the whole Exposition is the air more gloriously free than around the lofty arch and colonnades of the Tower of Jewels. Nowhere is the sunlight purer, or the sky bluer, than over the broad approach leading up from the glancing waters of the bay, past the aspiring Column of Progress, and between the noble colonnades of the palaces on either hand. From within the court, or from the approaches on east and west, the triumphal Arches of the Nations impress one with the magnificence of their proportions, their decoration, and their color. There the Oriental hues of the Exposition are carried upward, to meet and blend with the sky, and magically to make the heavens above them bluer than they really are. (See frontispiece.)

There is little Oriental about the court, except the color and the group of the Nations of the East above the Arch of the Rising Sun. The colonnade is Corinthian, all the arches are Roman, the sculpture is classic, the paintings are romantic, mystic, - the Court of the Universe may properly hold all things. It is thus an arena for the expression of universal themes, on which the nations of the East and West look down from their lofty Arches of Triumph. With this key, the symbolism of the sculpture in the court is easy. The Stars, by Calder, stand in circle above the colonnade. The frieze below the cornices of the pavilion towers represents the Signs of the Zodiac, by Herman A. MacNeil.

The graceful figures atop the two fountain columns in the oval sunken garden are the Rising and the Setting Sun, by Adolph A. Weinmann. (p. 69.) In the east the Sun, in the strength of morning, the masculine spirit of "going forth," has spread his wings for flight; in the west, the luminary, now essentially feminine, as the brooding spirit of evening, is just alighting. The sculptural adornment of the shafts is detailed in the chapter on Fountains.

The titanic Elements slumber on the balustrade, one on either hand of the stairways leading down on north and south into the sunken area. (p. 64.) On one side, on the north, the Elemental Power holds in check the Dragon of Fire. The whole figure expresses the primitive terror of Fire, a fear that still lives in the beasts. On the other side lies Water, the roaring Ocean, kelp in his hair, Neptune's trident in his hand, by him one of his fabled monsters. On the south, eagles of the Air hover close to the winged figure of the woman, who holds up the evening star and breathes gently down upon her people. Icarus, who was the first airman, appears upon her wings. Opposite, rests Earth, unconscious that her sons struggle with her. These remarkably expressive figures are the work of Robert Aitken.

The youthful groups by Paul Manship upon the extremities of the balustrade, on either hand of the eastern and western stairways, represent Music and Poetry, Music by the dance, Poetry by the written scroll. The sculpture is archaic in type, - an imitation of Greek imitations of still earlier models.

The colossal groups on the Arches of the Nations symbolize the meeting of the peoples of the East and West, brought together by the Panama Canal, and here uniting to celebrate its completion. In the group of the Nations of the East the elephant bears the Indian prince, and within the howdah, the Spirit of the East, mystic and hidden. (p. 63.) On the right is the Buddhist lama from Tibet, representative of that third of the human race which finds hope of Nirvana in countless repetitions of the sacred formula, "Om Mani Padme Hum." Next is the Mohammedan, with the crescent of Islam; then a negro slave, and then a Mongolian warrior, the ancient inhabitant of the sandy waste, a type of those Tartar hordes which swept Asia under Tamerlane and Genghis Khan. On the left of the Indian elephant are an Arab falconer, an Egyptian mounted on a camel and bearing a Moslem standard, then a negro slave bearing a basket of fruit on his head, and a sheik from the deserts of Arabia, all representing the Mohammedans of the nearer East. Thus are figured types of the great Oriental races, the Hindoo, the Tartar, which includes the Turk and the northern Chinese; the Chinese stock of the south, the Arab, and the Egyptian. Only the Persian is omitted, and possibly the Japanese, unless that, too, is Mongol.

On the Arch of the Setting Sun, the prairie schooner is the center of the group of the Nations of the West, on the top a figure of Enterprise, the Spirit of the West. (p. 59.) On either side of her is a boy. These are the Heroes of Tomorrow. Between the oxen rides the Mother of Tomorrow. Beside the ox at the right is the Italian immigrant, behind him the Anglo-American, then the squaw with her papoose, and the horse Indian of the plains. By the ox at the left is the Teuton pioneer, behind him the Spanish conquistador, next, the woods Indian of Alaska, and lastly the French Canadian.

Three sculptors collaborated in the modeling of these groups, A. Stirling Calder, Leo Lentelli, and Frederick G. R. Roth.

Of the Mural Paintings under the Arches of the Nations, the two by Edward Simmons in the arch on the east are an allegory of the movement of the peoples across the Atlantic, while those by Frank Vincent Du Mond in the western arch picture in realistic figures the westward march of civilization to the Pacific. Historically, the picture on the southern wall of the Arch of the Nations of the East comes first. Here Simmons has represented the westward movement from the Old World through natural emigration war, conquest, commerce and religion, personifying these in types of the people who have crossed the Atlantic. On the strand, beyond which appear types of the navies of the ages, are the following: an inhabitant of the fabled Atlantis, here conceived as a savage; the Greek warrior, perhaps one of those who fared with Ulysses over the sea to the west; the adventurer and explorer, portrayed as Columbus; the colonist, Sir Walter Raleigh; the missionary, in garb of a priest; the artist, and the artisan. All are called onward by the trumpet of the Spirit of Adventure, to found new families and new nations, symbolized by the vision of heraldic shields. Behind them stands a veiled figure, the Future listening to the Past. The long period in which this movement has been in progress is expressed by the dress of the travellers.

This might be called the Material Movement to the West, for the picture opposite depicts the Ideals of that progress. Hope leads the way, though some of the Hopes, shown as bubbles, were but Illusions. Then follow Adventure, Art, Imagination, Truth, Religion, and the spirits of domestic life. Simmons' work is characterized by grace and delicacy. The pictures are pleasing as form and color alone, but without titles the allegories are too difficult for people unaccustomed to interpreting this kind of art.

Du Mond's two murals in the western arch are easier. They make a continuous story. The first chapter, on the north side, pictures the emigrant train, led by the Spirit of Adventure, leaving for the West, while the second shows the pioneers reaching the shores of the Pacific and welcomed by California. To express the many-sided development of the West, Du Mond has portrayed individuals as the types of the pioneers. Here are Junipero Serra, the priest; Anza, the Spanish captain who first trod the shores of San Francisco Bay; Joseph Le Conte, the scientist; Bret Harte, the author; William Keith, the artist; and Starr King, the divine. The energy of these men has actually outstripped the Spirit of Adventure. Du Mond's story parallels in a way that pictured by Simmons. Color and composition are both exceedingly grateful to the eye.

The Column of Progress, outside the court, commands the entire north front of the Exposition, as the Tower of Jewels does the southern. (p. 57.) Symmes Richardson, the architect, drew his inspiration from Trajan's Column at Rome, an inspiration so finely bodied forth by the designer and the two sculptors who worked with him, MacNeil and Konti, that this shaft stands as one of the most satisfying creations on the Exposition grounds. Its significance completes the symbolism of the Exposition sculpture and architecture, as the joyous Fountain of Energy at the other end of the north-and-south axis begins it. That fountain celebrates the completion of the Canal. The Tower of Jewels with its sculpture tells the historical story of the conquest of the western seas and their shores. The Court of the Universe is the meeting place of the Nations, come to commemorate the joining of East and West. From this Court, a splendid avenue leads down to the border of the Western Ocean, where stands the Column of Progress, beyond the Exposition. Both in its position and in its sculpture the column signifies that, this celebration over, human endeavor stands ready to go on to still vaster enterprises on behalf of mankind.

The figure atop this Column is the Adventurous Bowman, past human achievement behind him, seeking a new emprise in the West, whither he has loosed his arrow. At his back is a figure of Humanity, signifying the support of mankind. By his side is the woman, ready to crown his success. (p. 58.) The question has often been asked, why there is no string to the archer's bow. The sculptor properly omitted it, for, at the moment the arrow leaves the bow, the cord is vibrating far too strongly to be visible.

The cylindrical frieze below the Bowman represents the Burden Bearers. This, with the Bowman, is the work of H. A. MacNeil. The spiral of ships ascending the shaft symbolizes the upward course of man's progress. Around the base is the frieze by Isidor Konti, on three sides striving human figures, on the fourth celestial trumpeters announcing victory. The whole signifies man's progress through effort. (p. 60.)

Yet the visitor must not look for a story in all the sculpture here or elsewhere. Some of this art is merely decorative, fulfilling purposes of harmony or completeness in the general mass. The winged figures by Leo Lentelli on the columns before the Arches of the Nations are simply ornaments, relieving, with their shafts, what would otherwise be too sheer a wall in the structure. They may be angels or they may be genii. Decorative, also, are the sculptured medallions between these columns, and the Pegasi on the spandrels of the arch, the medallions done by Calder, the Pegasi by Roth.

The caryatids in pairs of male and female surmounting the balustrade of the sunken garden are merely lamp bearers. The spouting monsters in the fountain pools are but ornamental, and so are the figures in relief under the basins. Those at the base of the shafts are described in detail in the chapter on Fountains. In the decoration of the entablature of the colonnade, the skull of the ox repeated between the garlands recalls the vicissitudes of the pioneers in their long march across the continent.

The Court of the Universe, this huge Piazza of the Nations, is thus all-inclusive. Within its vast oval is room for every theme. From it lead the ways to all the Exposition. In spirit it is as cosmopolitan as the Forum under the Caesars. Its art revives for us
"The glory that was Greece,
The grandeur that was Rome."

Inscriptions in Court of the Universe

I. Arch of the Rising Sun, east side of the Court.

(a) Panel at center of attic, west side of the Arch, facing the Court:
The Moon Sinks Yonder in the West While in the East the Glorius Sun Behind the Dawn Appears. Thus Rise and Set In Constant Change Those Shining Orbs and Regulate the Very Life of this Our World.
- Kalidasa, India.
(b) Small panel at right of center, facing the Court:
Our Eyes and Hearts Uplifted Seem to Gaze on Heavens' Radiance.
- Hitomaro, Japan.
(c) Small panel at left of center, facing the Court:
They Who Know the Truth are Not Equal to Those Who Love It.
- Confucius, China.
(d) Panel at center of attic, east side of the Arch:
The Balmy Air Diffuses Health and Fragrance. So Tempered is the Genial Glow That We Know Neither Heat Nor Cold. Tulips and Hyacinths Abound. Fostered by A Delicious Clime the Earth Blooms Like A Garden.
- Firdausi, Persia.
(e) Small panel at right of center:
A Wise Man Teaches Be Not Angry. From Untrodden Ways Turn Aside.
- Phra Ruang, Siam.
(f) Small panel at left of center:
He That Honors Not Himself Lacks Honor Wheresoe'er He Goes.
- Zuhayr, Arabia.
II. Arch of the Setting Sun, west side of the Court.

(a) Panel at center of attic, east side of the Arch, facing the Court:
Facing West From California's Shores - Inquiring Tireless Seeking What is Yet Unfound - I A Child Very Old Over Waves Toward the House of Maternity the Land of Migrations Look Afar - Look Off the Shores of My Western Sea the Circle Almost Circled.
- Whitman, America.

(b) Small panel at right of center:

Truth - Witness of the Past Councilor of the Present Guide of the Future.
- Cervantes, Spain.

(c) Small panel at left of center:

In Nature's Infinite Book of Secrecy A Little I Can Read.
- Shakespeare, England.

(d) Panel at center of attic, west side of the Arch:

It is Absolutely Indispensable For the United States to Effect A Passage From the Mexican Gulf to the Pacific Ocean And I Am Certain That They Will Do It - Would That I Might Live to See it But I Shall Not.
- Goethe, Germany.

(e) Small panel at right of center:
The Universe - An Infinite Sphere the Center Everywhere the Circumference Nowhere. - Pascal, France.

(f) Small panel at left of center:

The World is in its Most Excellent State When Justice is Supreme.
- Dante, Italy.

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