A remnant of a Jeffersonian Rotunda column capital stands on stark display in front of the Fralin Museum of Art. The Italian marble survived the fire of 1895 and more than 100 years of rain, snow, ice, and every temperature extreme imaginable. Now, the Jefferson capital is the primary model for craftsmen who are creating new capitals for the Rotunda renovation.
Fabric has covered the capitals on the north and south porticos for more than three years, due to concern over disintegrating marble installed more than a century ago. Those weathered and crumbling capitals were made of domestic, fine-grained white marble that was not as hard as that of the original marble capitals, which were carved from Carrara marble in Italy.
Craftsmen from the Pedrini Sculpture Studio in Carrara visited the University this fall to examine the remnants of Jefferson’s original capitals, which survived the 1895 Rotunda fire. Conservationists cleaned the larger remnants to reveal marble colors and original carving details, and the craftsmen made three-dimensional laser scans to recreate historically accurate capitals.
“We’re matching good, clean stone with the samples that have been scanned,” said Jody Lahendro, historic preservation architect for Facilities Management. “They’re in the process now in Italy of digitally stitching those scans together to complete a computer model of the capitals.”
Carving and installation of the 16 capitals will take an estimated nine months, restoring Jefferson’s architectural vision and eliminating safety concerns, with the new column capitals predicted to better withstand the test of time.