Louisiana Capitol: Most Interesting are the Brass Doors

We are reviewing art in other state capitols to see what lessons Minnesota might learn as the our state proceeds with its own capitol renovation and art review. (These blogs are aggregated on our Capitol Art page.)

Continuing alphabetically, today we pick up with the Louisiana State Capitol, unique in its style. At 34 stories, it is the tallest capitol in the United States. The Art Deco capitol opened in 1932 due in large part to the efforts of Huey Long, the state’s political powerhouse at the time. (Long was assassinated in the Capitol in 1935.) The old capitol, a Gothic structure, is now a museum: the Center for Political and Governmental History.

In general, Louisiana’s capitol has fewer murals and paintings than Minnesota (according to what we were able to glean on line). What art the capitol does have makes little reference to the Native Americans who first lived in the area. The exception is the large brass doors to the House and Senate chambers, which each have 12 decorative panels. These panels provide a timeline of Louisiana’s significant events from 1699-1861.

The state’s official virtual tour does not discuss the images on the brass doors. You can find images on the website: http://travelphotobase.com/s/LABCD.HTM. Here are a few descriptions of the panels and the historical significance of the scene depicted.

Two panels show early contact between French explorers and Native peoples. The first panel in the series is called: Bienville meets the Ouachas & Bayougoulas [Indians] at Bayou Plaquemine (1699). Another panel is titled Iberville at the Natchez Village (1709)

Several panels depict the establishment of Louisiana’s laws and treaties.

  • Bienville & the Black Code (1724). The Black Code was established to regulate relations between slaves and colonists. According to the website Blackpast.org, “the Louisiana Code noir, or slave code, based largely on that compiled in 1685 for the French Caribbean colonies, was introduced in 1724 and remained in force until the United States took possession of Louisiana in 1803.”
  • O’Reilly introduces the Law of the Indies (1769). The “Law of the Indies” refers to the “entire body of laws issued by the Spanish Crown for the American and Philippine possessions of its empire,” according to Wikipedia. “They regulated social, political and economic life in these areas. The laws are composed of myriad decrees issued over the centuries and the important laws of the 16th century, which attempted to regulate the interactions between the settlers and natives …”
  • Signing the Louisiana Purchase Treaty (1803).
  • The Preparation of the Code Napoleon (1801-03). The code went into effect in 1804, and according to Wikipedia, it “forbade privileges based on birth, allowed freedom of religion, and specified that government jobs should go to the most qualified.”
  • Signing of the treaty with the Caddo Indians (1835): Wikipedia provides this account: “After the 1803 Louisiana Purchase, … the United States government sought to ally with the Caddo peoples. During the War of 1812, American generals such as William Henry Harrison, William Clark (explorer), and Andrew Jackson had crushed pro-British Indian uprisings. Due to the Caddo’s neutrality and their importance as a source of information for the Louisiana Territory government, they were left alone until the 1830s, when the federal government embarked on a program of Indian removal from areas desired for European-American settlement.”
  • The Convention of 1861 In Baton Rouge. This, the last panel in the series, depicts Louisiana seceding from the Union in the lead up to the Civil War. 

The state’s virtual tour of the capitol is not very detailed. It discusses Memorial Hall (the equivalent of a rotunda in a traditional capitol.) The Hall has two major murals by Jules Guerin. They have traditional “land of plenty” themes. “The mural on the east wall is referred to as the ‘Goddess of Knowledge and Time'” the tour guide says. “The central figure holds a zodiac in one hand and an hourglass in the other. Harvest scenes make up the background. On the west wall, the mural is referred to as ‘Abundance of the Earth.’ The central figure here represents agriculture and the figures surrounding her represent art, literature and music.”

Neither the Senate or House of representatives have paintings or statues, according to what is available in the tour. The architecture itself is the art.

The capitol has a couple of prominent statues flanking the front stairs, titled: Pioneers and Patriots, “memorializing both the early settlers and defenders of Louisiana,” according to BlueskyTraveler. Huey Long has a prominent statue on the Capitol grounds. (Click on the link and scroll down for images.)


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