Council of Independent Colleges Historic Campus Architecture Project


Liberal Arts Center and Rotunda

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Institution Name: Marywood University
Original/Historic Place Name: Liberal Arts Center and Rotunda
Location on Campus: 2300 Adams Ave.
Date(s) of Construction:
1923original construction Howley, John J.
Designer: John J. Howley
Type of Place: Individual building
Style: Beaux-Arts classicism (Glossary)
Significance: architecture, culture, education, history, religion
Narrative: see below
References: see below
Foundation: concrete
Walls: interior: plaster; exterior: masonry, brick, lime
Roof: concrete and steel; dome is EPDM and copper, topped by a six foot copper cross
ca. 1923dining hall (cafeteria)
ca. 1923museum (Suraci Art Gallery)
ca. 1923library
1923-present (2006)other (site for special events)
1923-present (2006)classrooms
1923-present (2006)administration

The Liberal Arts Center, described as the first flowering of Marywood University since it is the first building erected specifically for higher education, has been the university's main building since the 1920s. The central entrance to the building, an imposing orthostyle, is an open loggia fronted by four Doric columns. The loggia opens to the Hall of Presidents, leading to the Rotunda. The Hall of Presidents was selected as a special place to display the portraits of Marywood University's presidents.

To the right and left of the Rotunda the first and second floors are divided into classrooms and offices. An entire story below the first floor, the terrace floor, results from the contour of the land and opens from a grade entrance. The entire floor is dedicated to administrative offices.

The floor of the Rotunda, seventy-two feet in diameter (eight feet less than that of the Capitol in Washington), is of blocked Tennessee marble. Pillars of variegated marble support the lofty dome, which is adorned with rich golds, deep blues, spring greens, and a warm, glowing white. A wainscoting of rose-veined Italian marble from the Appenines on both floors and a railing of delicately veined pilasters on the mezzanine floor match the verde antique marble inlay of the floor; walls are paneled in gold and ivory tones. An exquisitely illuminated and richly intricate scroll work makes for a surprising and admirable color intonation.

Beneath the dome of the Rotunda rests an artistic treasure. A Roman artist, Gonippo Raggi, was commissioned in 1935 to design and paint the 20 elaborate murals on the bare walls and dome, as well as finish the 24 structural steel columns, the mezzanine, and the floor. He succeeded in his vision in 1937, transforming the bare walls and dome, steel columns, the mezzanine, and floor into a Marywood University mission statement in marble and murals.

Professor Raggi incorporated the unique history and prophetic vision of the Congregation of the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, into the Rotunda murals. He saw the Rotunda as a vast canvas on which to "illustrate and put in evidence the work of education based mostly on civil and religious instruction." Raggi's murals evoke the history and principles of Christian education in a singularly American context, while also highlighting the distinct and significant contributions of the IHM Sisters.

There are twenty murals in all. Two of the four dome murals clearly position Marywood University within the tradition of American Christian education. Raggi drew upon the Old Testament, New Testament, and the Lives of the Saints to continue his education theme. Music, painting, nursing, the law, oratory, philosophy, theology, history, medicine, and literature are all included. A panel devoted to the Good Samaritan was a prescient anticipation of Marywood's subsequent involvement in social work education and related disciplines of allied health services.

A graduate of Rome's eminent School of Art, Professor Raggi earned the honor of popes and kings for his illumination of 100 cathedrals, basilicas, and churches across Europe and North and South America. It was at Marywood that he drew upon his immense talent to create in marble and paint a message unique to this University.


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Last update: November 2006