The Rotunda Paintings of the NYS Education Building


Historic Photo of State Education Building

Historic Photo of State Education Building
Photo Credit: New York State Education Department

The New York State Education building, constructed in a grand Neoclassical style between 1908 and 1912, was designed to “impress the popular mind with the important place which education holds in the thought and policies of the Empire State.” Similarly, the thirty-six paintings, created by Albany artist Will Hicok Low, possess a timeless quality of beauty and grace and serve as an architectural accompaniment to the building.

The Paintings

Using figures and symbols from Roman and Greek mythology paired with New York buildings and landscapes, the artist charts major milestones in human progress—in terms of art, science, technology, modernization, liberty, democracy, and quality of life. The earliest panels, such as Architecture, Astronomy & Geography, and Medicine & Chemistry, combine theory and practical skills. Another eight, including Theseus, the Pathfinder, feature modern inventions to show how far humankind had progressed by the early 20th century. The final paintings reflect a patriotic thme, with subjects such as The Standard, The United States Military Academy, and the Shaft of Union. Taken together, these paintings—originally gracing the entrances of the State Library Main Reading Room, the Law Library, and the Periodicals Library—complement the Rotunda’s architectural nobility and its aura of intellectual enlightenment.

Examples from the Collection

  • Architecture
  • Aspiration
  • Aspiration
  • Astronomy and Geography
  • Clio
  • Echo
  • Fortuna, The Pacemaker
  • Hope, The Permissive Law
  • Hygeia
  • Icarus, The Sky-Soarer
  • Jason, The Precursor
  • Justitia, The Liberator
  • Life Giving Fountain
  • Literature
  • Mathematics
  • Medicine and Chemistry
  • Minerva Guistiniani
  • Minerva Guistiniani
  • Music
  • New York State Seal
  • Painting
  • Pan
  • Pan
  • Patria, The Inspirer
  • Prometheus, The Power-Giver
  • Sculpture
  • Shaft of Union
  • The Standard
  • Theseus, The Pathfinder
  • United States Military Academy
  • University of the State of New York
  • Veritas, The Eternal

Art & Architechture 

The New York State Education Building was designed by Henry Hornbostel and built between 1908 and 1912. Its Beaux-Arts style in the Neoclassical tradition, popular in public buildings of the period, reflects an aura of cultured values and intellectual energy. The building is famous for the 36 Corinthian columns on its façade, considered the longest colonnade in the world. The architectural pivot of the building’s interior is its noble Rotunda, which rises from the second to the fifth floor. At the time of its completion, the building symbolized the unification of the State Education Department, and also housed the State Library and State Museum.

Visible from left to right are Jason–the Precursor, Veritas–the Eternal, Justitia–the Liberator, Patria–the Inspirer, Theseus–the Pathfinder, Icarus–the Sky-Soarer, Prometheus–the Power-Giver, and Fortuna–the Pacemaker

Explore this interactive panoramic view taken from the center of the Rotunda.
Although the majority of paintings are recessed behind giant corinthian columns, Hope and Contrition are visible on the far left, and Echo and Clio are visible on the far right.



Artist, Will Low
Artist, Will Low, in his studio.

About the Artist

Will Hicok Low (1853-1932) was born in Albany, New York. In his youth, Low supported himself as an illustrator for local newspapers and magazines. At age twenty, he attended the renowned École des Beaux-Arts in Paris and studied under Jean-Léon Gérôme, one of the most important painters from the style known as Academicism. Gérôme inspired Low to incorporate Greek mythology and history in his paintings. 

After returning to America, Low turned his attention to decoration to many prominent commissions including ceiling murals and decorations for the famous Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City. Low's Albany roots and experience as a muralist made him a natural choice for the commission. He completed the Rotunda murals from 1913-1918 at his private studio in Bronxville, New York.