The Museum Building
Echoing the design of a Greek temple but of more massive Roman proportions, the Museum building is considered one of the crowning achievements of the "city beautiful" movement in architecture in the early part of the twentieth century. It is constructed of pure Minnesota dolomite, with glazed blue roof tiles embellished with polychrome finials and pediments. Covering ten acres of ground, it contains over 200 galleries.
Of special interest on the exterior of the building is the group of polychrome terracotta sculptures in the tympanum of the pediment on the North Wing, which was designed by sculptor C. Paul Jennewein and installed in 1933. This marked the Museum as the first major building in over 2,000 years to adapt polychromy in this manner. In ancient Greek architecture, however, the architectural ornament and sculpture in terracotta and stone were painted with perishable pigments, while those of the Museum are of ceramic glazes. The completed tympanum encompasses ten free-standing figures, mythological Greek gods and goddesses signifying sacred and profane love. Executed in brilliant colors and gold glazes, the tympanum is seventy-feet wide at its base above the supporting columns, rising to twelve feet in height at the center. It is an outstanding example of ceramic art in color.
Jennewein also modeled the bronze doors of the elevators inside the Museum, while the octagonal bronze basin for the great fountain on the East Terrace, with bas-reliefs depicting Courtship, was designed by the Philadelphia sculptor Henry Mitchell (1915–1980) and installed in 1958. The acroteria of the roof are adorned with bronze griffins, seated with one paw outstretched or standing watchfully. This mythological creature, traditionally a guardian of treasure, has served as the symbol of the Museum since the 1970s.