OF CONTENTS - Introduction - A
Brief History of the Library
THE THOMAS JEFFERSON BUILDING
Part 1 - Part 2
The Library of Congress was established in 1800 when the American government moved from Philadelphia to the new capital of Washington on the Potomac River. For 97 years the Library was housed in various locations within the Capitol Building. The first separate Library of Congress Building, known today as the Thomas Jefferson Building, was suggested by Librarian of Congress Ainsworth Rand Spofford in 1871, authorized in 1886, and finally completed in 1897.
grandiose entrance stairs and facade of the west side of the Jefferson
Building reflect the nationalistic ambitions of the Library's
planners, architects, and builders. (Photograph by Carol M. Highsmith)
When its doors were opened to the public on November 1, 1897, the new Library of Congress building was an unparalleled national achievement; its 23-carat gold-plated dome capped the "largest, costliest, and safest" library building in the world. Its elaborately decorated facade and interior, for which more than forty American painters and sculptors produced commissioned works of art, were designed to show how the United States could surpass European libraries in grandeur and devotion to classical culture and to inspire optimism about America's future. A contemporary guidebook boasted: "America is justly proud of this gorgeous and palatial monument to its National sympathy and appreciation of Literature, Science, and Art. It has been designed and executed solely by American art and American labor (and is) a fitting tribute for the great thoughts of generations past, present, and to be." This new national Temple of the Arts immediately met with overwhelming approval from the American public.
Known as the Library of Congress (or Main) Building until June 13, 1980, when it was named for Thomas Jefferson, the Library's principal founder, the structure was built specifically to serve as the American national library, and its architecture and decoration express and enhance that grand purpose. The elaborate entrance pavilion and Great Hall gradually lead to the central reading room where, properly prepared, the user can take full advantage of the Library's vast resources of knowledge and information. A national library for the United States was the dream and goal of Librarian Spofford; the new building was a crucial step in his achievement. It was a functional, state-of-the-art structure as well as a monument to American cultural nationalism, for it used and celebrated the latest technology to demonstrate the new role of the library as an efficient workshop.
panels depicting FORTITUDE and JUSTICE flank the window at the east
end of the Great Hall's second-floor North Corridor. The artist is George
The early years of planning and construction were filled with controversy and delay. After two design competitions and a decade of debate about design and location, in 1886 Congress finally chose a plan in the Italian Renaissance style submitted by Washington architects John L. Smithmeyer and Paul J. Pelz. Structurally the architects followed the basic idea proposed by Librarian Spofford: a circular, domed reading room at the Library's center, surrounded by ample space for the Library's various departments. In the final Smithmeyer & Pelz plan, the reading room was enclosed by rectangular exterior walls, which divided the open space into four courtyards. The corner pavilions were devoted to the departments and to exhibit space.
Disputes continued after the building was authorized in 1886. Responsibility for clearing the site was debated (several buildings had to be razed) and Capitol landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted protested the building's location because it shut out "the whole view of the Capitol building from Pennsylvania Avenue--the main approach from Capitol hill." Another controversy, this one about the selection of the proper cement for the foundation, proved to be architect Smithmeyer's undoing, and he was dismissed in 1888. The building's construction was placed under the direction of Brig. Gen. Thomas Lincoln Casey, Chief of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Casey and his Superintendent of Construction, civil engineer Bernard R. Green, had successfully completed the construction of the Washington Monument and the State, War, and Navy (now Old Executive Office) Building and were trusted by Congress. The cornerstone was laid on Aug. 28, 1890. Paul J. Pelz, who replaced Smithmeyer as architect in 1888, was himself dismissed in 1892 and replaced by architect Edward Pearce Casey, General Casey's son, who supervised most of the interior decoration.
on First Street S.E. in front of the Jefferson Building. The Library
of Congress seal is above the inscription. The Jefferson Building acquired
its name in 1980.
The building's elaborate decoration, which combines sculpture, mural painting, and architecture on a scale unsurpassed in any American public building, was possible only because General Casey and Bernard Green lived up to their reputations as efficient construction engineers, completing the building for a sum substantially less than that appropriated by Congress. When it became apparent in 1892 that funds for "artistic enrichment" would be available out of the original appropriation, Casey and Green seized the opportunity and turned an already remarkable building into a cultural monument.
The two engineers were infused with a nationalism that complemented Spofford's national library aspirations. The 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago provided General Casey, his architect son Edward, and Bernard Green with an example of a cooperative artistic endeavor that combined architecture, sculpture, and painting, and there are many similarities and parallels between the Chicago Exposition and the Library building. Both are artistic ventures on a massive scale and, for the most part, in the same Beaux-Arts design tradition. Many of the artists who contributed works to the Library building either helped design the imperial facades of the Chicago Exposition or exhibited their works within its pavilions; moreover, many of them repeated the idealistic themes and togaed likenesses they produced in Chicago.
General Casey and Bernard Green were anxious to give American artists an opportunity to display their talents, and ultimately they commissioned no less than forty-two American sculptors and painters "to fully and consistently carry out the monumental design and purpose of the building." Casey and Green exercised final approval over the words and images seen throughout the building, even though the names, inscriptions, and quotations were chosen by many different people.
The works of art were expected to address various areas of human achievement without getting into controversial areas such as politics and religion. The sculptors were assigned general themes, but the muralists, with guidance from the two engineers and Edward Pearce Casey, chose their own themes and, it appears, most of the inscriptions and quotations within their assigned areas. Librarian Spofford chose the authors (his favorites) who are portrayed in the nine busts in the portico above the front entrance, and the quotations in the Pavilion of Seals (the Northeast Pavilion). He also chose the figures portrayed in the sixteen portrait statues on the balustrade of the Main Reading Room and, in all likelihood, the quotations in the four corridors on the second floor of the Great Hall. Charles W. Eliot, president of Harvard University, chose the inscriptions above the eight symbolic statues in the Main Reading Room, and provided the Caseys and Bernard Green with advice about other inscriptions and decorative features.
In a report to Congress in 1896, Superintendent Green stated that the total cost of the mural and decorative painting, the sculpture, and the three massive bronze doors at the main entrance was $364,000. Even with the additional costs of gilding the building's dome, including the Torch of Learning at its apex, and the construction of the Neptune Fountain in front of the building on First Street, the building was completed for $200,000 less than the total congressional authorization of approximately $6,500,000.
Weather and the chemical effects of the 19th century method of tinning the copper beneath the gold leaf dome combined to produce perforations in the copper in the 20th century, and the leaking gilded copper was replaced in October 1931. It was thought that gold leaf would conflict with the appearance of the building's aging granite exterior, and the new copper was left to acquire its current patina. In August 1993, however, the flame of the Torch of Learning at the apex of the dome was regilded, this time time with 23 1/2 carat gold leaf.
Since 1897, three of the four interior courtyards of the Jefferson Building have been filled. The east courtyards have become bookstacks; the southeast bookstack was completed in 1910, the northeast in 1927. The northwest courtyard is occupied by two special structures: the Coolidge Auditorium, built in 1925 for chamber music recitals and a gift of Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge, and the Whittall Pavilion, given to the Library in 1938 by Gertrude Clarke Whittall to house five Stradivarius instruments she donated to the Library. A plaque commemorating Mrs. Coolidge and her gift is outside the entrance to the Coolidge Auditorium, on the ground floor. The names of four great composers--Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Brahms--are inscribed on the outside wall of the Whittall Pavilion, above the windows and the stairs leading down to the interior courtyard.
The east side of the Jefferson Building was extended between 1929 and 1933, providing space for a Rare Book Room, a Union Catalog Room, and additional study rooms.
In 1924 a marble and bronze exhibit case known as the Shrine, designed by architect Francis Bacon, was installed on the west side of the second floor gallery in the Great Hall. There the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States were displayed until 1952 when the documents were transferred to the National Archives. As part of the restoration that began in 1986, the empty Shrine was removed from the Great Hall and placed into storage.
The Main Reading Room was closed for renovation and the installation of air conditioning on May 4, 1964, reopening on August 16, 1965. In 1984, Congress appropriated $81.5 million for the renovation and restoration of the Jefferson and Adams Buildings, which included the cleaning and conservation of murals in the Jefferson Building. Work started in 1986 and was completed in 1995.
The Jefferson Building is a heroic setting for a national institution. Today it is recognized as a unique blending of art and architecture, a structure that celebrates learning, nationalism, and American turn-of-the-century confidence and optimism. The Jefferson Building also reflects its own time and prejudices. It emphasizes the achievements of western civilization, and most of the names and images on its walls evoke a society dominated by western thought. Thus, for many different reasons, the elaborate embellishment of the Jefferson Building is worth careful attention. The building is celebratory, inspirational, and educational. Few structures represent human aspiration in such dramatic fashion.
The Neptune Fountain
This lavishly ornamental fountain, created by sculptor Roland Hinton Perry, represents a scene in the court of Neptune, the Roman god of the sea. The muscular and majestic Neptune, with his long flowing beard, is seated on a bank of rocks. The figure is of colossal size; if standing, it would be about twelve feet in height. On each side of Neptune lolls a figure of Triton, one of the minor sea gods, blowing a conch shell to summon the water deities to Neptune's throne. Sea nymphs, sea horses, sea monsters, gigantic frogs, and huge turtles are part of this extraordinary and splendid grotto of the sea. Hinton's name and the date he completed the work are inscribed to the right of Neptune, at the fountain's water level.
The Ethnological Heads
One of the Jefferson Building's most striking exterior features are the thirty-three ethnological heads that surround it, serving as keystone ornaments of the first story windows. Otis T. Mason, curator of the Department of Ethnology in the National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution, was the special advisor for this project. In Herbert Small's 1897 Handbook of the New Library of Congress, this undertaking is described as "the first instance of a comprehensive attempt to make ethnological science contribute to the architectural decoration of an important public building." The heads themselves, created by William Boyd and Henry Jackson Ellicott, were based on information provided by Professor Mason. The list of the races represented, as described by Small, and the location of the keystones follow.
Starting at the north end of the front entrance pavilion, the first head is that of a Russian Slav, located beneath the portico bust of Demosthenes. Continuing across the west front, the heads are: Blonde European; Brunette European; Modern Greek; Persian (Iranian);
On the south side: Circassian; Hindu; Hungarian (Magyar); Semite, or Jew; Arab (Bedouin); Turk
On the east side: Modern Egyptian (Hamite); Abyssinian; Malay; Polynesian; Australian; Negrito (Indian Archipeligo); Sudan Negro; Akka (Dwarf African Negro); Fuegian; Botocudo (South America); Pueblo Indian (Zunis of New Mexico);
On the north side: Esquimaux; Plains Indians (Sioux, Cheyenne, Comanche); Samoyede (Finn); Korean; Japanese; Ainu (northern Japan);
On the west front: Burman; Tibetan; Chinese
The Portico Busts
In the portico of the Jefferson Building's front entrance pavilion--at second story window level--nine great men are commemorated by busts. Benjamin Franklin was placed in the center of this grouping, because he was considered by the sculptor Frederick Wellington Ruckstuhl to be "one of the greatest men of this country, and as a writer and philosopher the patriarch." Each last name is inscribed at the base of the bust. Franklin and the eight others who were so enshrined are listed below, along with the name of the sculptors of each bust.
North end of portico:
Across the front (left to right)
South end of portico
Ainsworth Rand Spofford, Librarian of Congress., 1864-1897, chose his favorite authors to be portrayed by busts on the Jefferson Building's portico, facing the Capitol. Pictured here is Dante, by sculptor Herbert Adams.
The Construction Dates
Dates marking the beginning and end of the construction of the Jefferson Building are carved in the granite exterior at the ground level on the north end of the portico (1889) and the south end (1897). The cornerstone, containing documents about the history of the building, was laid without ceremony on August 28, 1890, on the ground level in the northeast corner. The inscription, "AUGUST 28, 1890," was put on the stone on January 16, 1952.
The Jefferson Building opened in 1897, eleven years after its construction was authorized, and 26 years after Librarian Spofford called for a separate Library building.
The Entrance Porch
The Main Entrance to the Jefferson Building is at the top of the imposing front stairway and through an entrance porch of three arches into the Great Hall at the first floor level. The six life-size spandrel figures leaning gracefully against the curve of each of the arches were sculpted by Bela Lyon Pratt. They represent Literature (the left-hand arch), Science (the center arch) and Art (the right-hand arch). Of the two figures representing Literature, the left one holds a writing tablet and the right one holds a book while gazing into the distance. Of the two figures representing Science, the first holds the torch of Knowledge, and the second looks upward, thus repeating, in a general way, the distinction between the practical and the abstract seen in the left-hand door. In the third group, the figure to the left represents Sculpture (he's working on a bust of Dante), and the one to the right represents Painting.
The Bronze Doors
The three arches of the Entrance Porch end at three massive bronze doors covered with a design of rich sculptural ornament. Each is a double door, 14 feet high to the top of the arch, and weighs about three and one-half tons. The subjects and the sculptors are, from left to right: Tradition, modeled by Olin Levi Warner; The Art of Printing, by Frederick MacMonnies; and Writing, by Olin Levi Warner, which though unfinished at his death in August 1896, was completed by Herbert Adams. Taken together as a sequential series, Tradition, Writing, and Printing, illustrate the successive and, according to Small's Handbook, the "gradually more perfect" ways that humans have preserved religion, history, literature, and science.
Tradition (left-hand door)
Tradition illustrates how knowledge was originally handed down from generation to generation. In the lunette above the door, an American Indian, a Norseman, a prehistoric man, and a shepherd listen intently to the words of the central figure. Each of these lunette figures represents peoples who kept their history alive via oral tradition. The face of the Indian was taken from a sketch of Chief Joseph of the Nez Percé tribe that sculptor Warner made in 1889. (The compiler of a contemporary guidebook, Charles B. Reynolds, asserts that on the day in April 1897 when he was making notes on the door, "Chief Joseph himself was here at the Library, looking upon this portrait of himself.") The names of the artist and the door's foundry can be seen at the bottom of the lunette.
The figures on the large door panels below the lunette represent Imagination and Memory. Sculptor Warner's signature and the date of the work can be seen near left foot of Imagination and the right foot of Memory. The word "Tradition," engraved on a medallion on the reverse side of the lunette, can be seen from inside the entrance.
The Art of Printing (center door)
Frederick MacMonnies entitled the lunette above the door "Minerva Diffusing the Products of Typographical Art." Minerva, the Roman goddess of learning and wisdom, is seated in the center. The Latin title of the subject, Ars Typographica, and various symbolic ornaments can be seen in the background. The figures on the door panels represent the Humanities and Intellect. The artist has signed his work on the doors near the feet of Intellect. The phrase "Homage to Gutenberg," engraved on the reverse side of the lunette, can be seen from inside the entrance.
Writing (right-hand door)
In the lunette above the doors, the four figures surrounding the central figure represent people who have influenced the world through their written literature: an Egyptian and a Jew and a Christian and a Greek. The figures on the door panels below represent Truth and Research. As the inscription on the right side of the doors indicates, this work was begun by Olin Levi Warner, who died in 1896, and completed by Herbert Adams.
The Entrance Vestibule
Even though many visitors first view the Great Hall after climbing the stairs from the Library's ground floor entrance, the Great Hall was designed so that the most spectacular view awaits those who enter through the bronze doors at the first floor west entrance. From here one steps into the sumptuously decorated main vestibule, with its gleaming white marble arches, stucco decoration, and heavily-paneled and gold-ornamented ceiling. As your eye travels up the short piers to the gilt ceiling you see the paired figures of Minerva, created by Herbert Adams as the "Minerva of War" and the "Minerva of Peace" and placed atop each marble pillar at the base of the double staircases. "Minerva of War" grasps a short sword in one hand and holds aloft the torch of learning in the other; "Minerva of Peace" holds a globe, which symbolizes the universal scope of knowledge, and a scroll.
A plaque on the central pillar commemorates Daniel Wolsey Voorhees (1827-1897), a Senator from Indiana. Voorhees strongly supported Librarian Spofford's campaign to construct a separate Library building. The inscription reads:
AS A MEMBER FOR EIGHTEEN YEARS OF THE JOINT COMMITTEE ON THE LIBRARY, AS CHAIRMAN FOR SEVENTEEN YEARS OF THE JOINT SELECT COMMITTEE ON ADDITIONAL ACCOMMODATIONS FOR THE LIBRARY, AND IN MANY ELOQUENT PLEAS ON THE FLOOR OF THE SENATE TOOK A LEADING PART IN OBTAINING THIS LIBRARY BUILDING FOR THE AMERICAN PEOPLE
The flooring in the entrance vestibule is made of white Italian marble, with bands and geometric patterns of brown Tennessee marble. Modeling and incised brass inlays have been added to the marble floor within the Great Hall. In the center of the floor is the sun, on which are noted the four cardinal points of the compass. These compass points correspond to directions within the Library--e.g., the Main Reading Room is to the east. Should you become confused about the location of any of the Jefferson Building's features mentioned in this guidebook, please refer to this compass to get your bearings.
The inlays represent the twelve signs of the zodiac, beginning with Leo in the northwest corner. Proceeding clockwise, the others are: Cancer, Gemini, Taurus, Aries, Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn, Sagitarrius, Scorpio, Libra, and Virgo.
The Commemorative Arch
The arcade at the center of the east side of the Great Hall takes the form of a triumphant arch commemorating the construction of the building. The words LIBRARY OF CONGRESS are inscribed in tall gilt letters above the arch. A marble tablet inscribed with the names of the building's construction engineers and architects is part of the parapet immediately above. The tablet, flanked by two majestic eagles, reads:
ERECTED UNDER THE ACTS OF CONGRESS OF APRIL 15 1886, OCTOBER 2 1888 AND MARCH 2 1889 BY BRIG. GEN. THOS. LINCOLN CASEY CHIEF OF ENGINEERS U.S.A. BERNARD R. GREEN SUPT. AND ENGINEER JOHN L. SMITHMEYER ARCHITECT PAUL J. PELZ ARCHITECT EDWARD PEARCE CASEY ARCHITECT
The spandrels of the arch beneath the inscriptions contain two signed sculptured figures by Olin Levi Warner titled The Students. The figure on the left is a youth seeking to acquire knowledge from books. On the right, an old sage is engaged in thought and reflection.
The Minerva mosaic, the Gutenberg Bible exhibit, and the arch commemorating the construction of the Jefferson Building are captured in this photograph of the east side of the Great Hall taken in the 1950s.
The two great staircases flanking the Great Hall are embellished by elaborate and varied sculptural work by Philip Martiny. At the base of each is a bronze female figure wearing classic drapery and holding a torch of knowledge. They are signed "P H Martiny, sculptor NY"; the foundry's name is also inscribed at the base. Each stair railing is decorated with a fanciful series of cherubs carved by Martiny in white marble. In a niche on the north side is a plaster bust of Thomas Jefferson and on the south is a bronze bust of George Washington; both are copied from works by the sculptor Jean-Antoine Houdon. The balustrade on each side of the top landing contains Martiny's figures of cherubs modeled to represent the fine arts. At the north landing, they are Painting, Architecture, and Sculpture; at the south landing, Comedy, Poetry, and Tragedy.
The elaborate ornamentation of the Great Hall, which has been called "the richest interior in America," is highlighted in this photograph taken in the 1960s.
The cherubs in the ascending railing of each staircase--according to Small's Handbook--represent "the various occupations, habits, and pursuits of modern life." The series begins at the bottom with the figure of a stork. Then, on the north side of the hall, are figures of a Gardener, with a spade and a rake; an Entomologist, capturing butterflies; a Student poring over a text; a Printer, with typefaces, a type case, and a press. Halfway up the railing, on the same level, are cherubs representing Asia and Europe. Next comes a Musician; a Physician, mortar and pestle in hand; and an Electrician holding a telephone receiver at his ear and, Small writes, "with a star of electric rays shining on his brow." At the top of the railing is an Astronomer with a telescope.
In the staircase railing on the south side of the Great Hall, beginning at the bottom, the figures are a Mechanic with a cogwheel and pincers; a Hunter, with a gun, hoisting a rabbit he has just shot; a Vintner dressed like Bacchus, the Roman god of wine, holding a goblet; a Farmer with a sickle and a sheaf of wheat. Halfway up the railing are cherubs representing Africa and America. Next comes a Fisherman; a Soldier, a Chemist, with a blowpipe; and, last but not least, a Cook.
The names of ten great authors can be seen on tablets above the Great Hall's semicircular latticed windows in the vaulted cove of the ceiling. Beginning on the east and proceeding clockwise, the names are DANTE, HOMER, MILTON, BACON, ARISTOTLE, GOETHE, SHAKESPEARE, MOLIERE, MOSES, and HERODOTUS. The names of eight more authors are inscribed in gilt letters on tablets beneath the second-story cartouches on the east and west sides of the hall. Beginning on the east and reading left to right, the authors are CERVANTES, HUGO, SCOTT, COOPER, LONGFELLOW, TENNYSON, GIBBON, and BANCROFT.
Adorning the East Corridor are six lunettes by John White Alexander that depict The Evolution of the Book. The subjects are, at the south end, the Cairn, Oral Tradition, and Egyptian Hieroglyphics; and, at the north end, Picture Writing, the Manuscript Book, and the Printing Press.
In the vault mosaics, at the ends and along the sides, are ten trophies, each with symbols representing one of the arts or sciences. Below each are the surnames of two native-born Americans associated with that art or science. Beginning on the east wall and reading left to right, they are: MATHEMATICS (Peirce and Bowditch), ASTRONOMY (Bond and Rittenhouse), ENGINEERING (Francis and Stevens), NATURAL PHILOSOPHY (Silliman and Cooke), ARCHITECTURE (Latrobe and Walter), MUSIC (Mason and Gottschalk), PAINTING (Stuart and Allston), SCULPTURE (Powers and Crawford), POETRY (Emerson and Holmes), and NATURAL SCIENCE (Say and Dana).
Names of native-born Americans distinguished in Medicine, Law, and Theology are inscribed in the ceiling vault. Beginning at the north end, they are: THEOLOGY (Brooks, Edwards, Mather, Channing, Beecher); LAW (Shaw, Taney, Marshall, Story, Gibson, Pinckney, Kent, Hamilton, Webster, Curtis); and MEDICINE (Cross, Wood, McDowell, Rush, Warren).
"Law" is one of 13 fields of knowledge celebrated in the East Mosaic Corridor near the first floor entrance to the Main Reading Room.
At either end of the East Corridor a stairway leads to the ground floor. In the domed lobbies at the head of each stairway are these quotations:
Five small but stunning paintings by Elihu Vedder grace the lunettes at the entrance to the Main Reading Room. (Each is copyrighted by the artist along the lower edge.) This strategically-placed series and its subject Government are of special importance. As Herbert Small notes in his Handbook, "In every sort of library the fundamental thing is the advancement of learning--illustrated in the Reading Room dome, as the visitor will see later--but in a library supported by the nation the idea of government certainly comes next in importance."
In the painting above the central door to the Reading Room, titled Government and representing the ideal state, one can see the figure of Good Government holding a plaque on which is inscribed a quote from Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, "A government of the people, by the people, and for the people." Two paintings explaining the practical working of government flank each side of this central image. To the left, Corrupt Legislation leads to Anarchy (the scroll of learning is burning in Anarchy's right hand, and she is trampling on a scroll, a lyre, a Bible, and a book); to the right, Good Administration (the youth on the right, educated by the books he is carrying, is casting his ballot into the urn) leads to Peace and Prosperity.
"Government" by Elihu Vedder, in the central lunette over the door leading to the Main Reading Room, represents the abstract conception of a republic as the ideal state.
Visitors should take the elevators to the third floor to view the Main Reading Room from the Visitors' Gallery, or walk up the two flights of marble stairs.
The Eight Symbolic Statues and Their Inscriptions
From the Visitors' Gallery, eight large statues can be seen above the giant marble columns that surround the reading room. They represent eight categories of knowledge, each considered symbolic of civilized life and thought. Their titles are inscribed in gilt letters on a tablet in the frieze below them. Beginning with the figures on the east side of the room--from the perspective of the Visitor's Gallery--the symbolic statues are: Philosophy, by Bela Lyon Pratt; Art, by Francois M.L. Tonetti-Dozzi (after sketches by Augustus St. Gaudens); History, by Daniel Chester French; Commerce, by John Flanagan; Religion, by Theodore Baur; Science, by John Donoghue; Law, by Paul Wayland Bartlett; and Poetry, by John Quincy Adams Ward.
Above each statue is a large tablet bearing an inscription in gilt letters. Each of the eight inscriptions, appropriate to the subject of the statue below it, was chosen by Harvard University President Charles W. Eliot.
Above the figure of Philosophy
Above the figure of Art
Above the figure of History
Above the figure of Commerce
Above the figure of Religion
Above the figure of Science
Above the figure of Law
Above the figure of Poetry
The Sixteen Bronze Statues
Sixteen bronze statues set along the balustrade of the galleries represent men renowned for their accomplishments in the categories of knowledge and activity described above. The subjects were chosen by Ainsworth Rand Spofford, Librarian of Congress 1864-1897. The statues are paired, each pair flanking one of the eight giant marble columns. The names of individual figures are inscribed on the wall directly behind the statue. The list of those selected as representatives of human thought and civilization follows, along with the name of the sculptor of each statue.
The Athenian statesman, lawgiver, and reformer Solon is one of two bronze statues that portrays "law" in the Main Reading Room. The scroll in his hand bears the Greek words OI NOMOI ("the law"). The sculptor is Frederick Wellington Ruckstall.
The State Seals
The seals of the states of the union at the time the Jefferson Building was constructed are contained in the massive semicircular stained glass windows that surround the Main Reading Room. At the top, in the middle of each of the eight windows, is the Great Seal of the United States. To the right and left, following the curve of each window, are the seals of the states and territories, three on a side, six in each window. Thus, forty-eight seals are included.
The name of the state or territory is inscribed above each seal, along with the date of the year in which it was admitted to the Union or organized under a territorial form of government. The seals are displayed in the order of their dates. The series begins in the west window (above and behind the Visitors' Gallery).
Above the bronze statues of Moses and Newton are the seals: Delaware, 1787; Pennsylvania, 1787; New Jersey, 1787; Georgia, 1788; Connecticut, 1788; Massachusetts, 1788.
Proceeding clockwise, in the northwest window, above the bronze statues of Henry and Solon, are: Maryland, 1788; South Carolina, 1788; New Hampshire, 1788; Virginia, 1788; New York, 1788; North Carolina, 1789.
In the north window, above the bronze statues of Kent and Shakespeare, are: Rhode Island, 1790; Vermont, 1791; Kentucky, 1792; Tennessee, 1796; Ohio, 1802; Louisiana, 1812.
In the northeast window, above the bronze statues of Homer and Plato, are: Indiana, 1816; Mississippi, 1817; Illinois, 1818; Alabama, 1819; Maine, 1820; Missouri 1821.
In the east window, above the bronze statues of Bacon and Michelangelo, are the seals: Arkansas, 1836; Michigan, 1837; Florida, 1845; Texas, 1845; Iowa, 1846; Wisconsin, 1848.
In the southeast window, above the statues of Beethoven and Herodotus, are: California, 1850; Minnesota, 1858; Oregon, 1859; Kansas, 1861; West Virginia, 1863; Nevada, 1864.
In the south window, above the bronze statues of Gibbon and Columbus, are: Nebraska, 1867; Colorado, 1876; North Dakota, 1889; South Dakota, 1889; Montana, 1889; Washington, 1889.
In the southwest window, above the bronze statues of Fulton and St. Paul, are: Idaho, 1890; Wyoming, 1890; Utah, 1895; New Mexico, 1850 (territory); Arizona, 1863 (territory); Oklahoma, 1890 (territory).
The Paintings in the Dome
Edwin Howland Blashfield's murals, which adorn the dome of the Main Reading Room, occupy the central and the highest point of the building and form the culmination of the entire interior decorative scheme. The round mural set inside the lantern of the dome depicts Human Understanding, looking upward beyond the finite intellectual achievements represented by the twelve figures in the collar of the dome.
These twelve seated figures represent the twelve countries, or epochs, which Blashfield felt contributed most to American civilization. To the immediate right of each figure is a tablet on which is inscribed the name of the country typified and, below this, the name of the outstanding contribution of that country to human progress.
The figures follow each other in chronological order, beginning in the east, the cradle of civilization. The figures and their respective inscriptions are:
EGYPT: WRITTEN RECORDS
The personal seal of Mena, the first Egyptian King, is inscribed in hieroglypics in the tablet.
On the face of the pillar is inscribed, in Hebrew characters, the injunction: Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. (Holy Bible, Leviticus 19:18)
THE MIDDLE AGES: MODERN LANGUAGES
ITALY: THE FINE ARTS
GERMANY: THE ART OF PAINTING
The figure is holding a facsimile of the first edition of Shakespeare's A Midsummer's Night Dream, printed in 1600.
The figure is holding "Les Droits de l'Homme," The Declaration of the Rights of Man adopted by the French Assembly in 1789.
The figure, an engineer whose face was modeled from Abraham Lincoln's, sits in his machine shop pondering a problem of mechanics. In front of him is an electric dynamo, representing the American contribution to the advancement of electricity. Blashfield has signed his work on the base of the dynamo, with the accompanying inscription: "These decorations were designed and executed by EDWIN HOWLAND BLASHFIELD, assisted by ARTHUR REGINALD WILLETT, A.D. MDCCCLXXXXVI."
This photograph of Edwin H. Blashfeld's mural above the Main Reading Room depicts four of the twelve countries, or epochs, that contributed to the "Evolution of Civilization," from Egypt to America.
Family and Education are major themes in this corridor, which is located behind the north staircase in the Great Hall.
Above the window at the west end of the corridor (through which you can see the Capitol) is a lunette with two female figures holding aloft a scroll with the quotation:
GIVE INSTRUCTION UNTO THOSE WHO CANNOT PROCURE IT FOR THEMSELVES.
Confucius, Book XIII, Sec. 9
Charles Sprague Pearce painted the two figures and scroll above the window at the west end of the North Mosaic Corridor.
Dominating the corridor are seven paintings by Charles Sprague Pearce. The Family is the subject of the large tympanum at the east end, above the entrance to the Librarian's office. The smaller panels near the ceiling along the north wall represent activities associated with family life. From left to right, they depict Religion, Labor, Study, and Recreation. The single painting on the south side, opposite the panel of Recreation, represents Rest.
"The Family," a painting by Charles Sprague Pearce, can be seen at the east end of the North Mosiac Corridor. Six other paintings by Pearce are part of the beautiful and elaborately decorated chamber.
The penetrations in the vault above the paintings contain the surnames of distinguished men of education throughout the world. On the north side, left to right, they are: FROEBEL, PESTALOZZI, ROUSSEAU, COMENIUS, and ASCHAM. On the south side, above the columns and arches lending to the Great Hall, they are: HOWE, GALLAUDET, MANN, ARNOLD, and SPENCER.
In the mosaic vaulting of the ceiling, from west to east, are the words ART (above the quotation by Confucius), FAMILY, ASTRONOMY (surrounded, clockwise from the north, by MATHEMATICS, CHEMISTRY, PHYSICS, and GEOLOGY), POETRY (surrounded, clockwise from the north, by SCULPTURE, PAINTING, MUSIC, and ARCHITECTURE), EDUCATION, and SCIENCE (above the painting of The Family).
The names of the thirteen men appointed by the President of the United States to the post of Librarian of Congress are inscribed on the east wall beneath the painting of The Family. The dates are the terms of office served. The Librarians listed above the line served in the Library of Congress in the Capitol, before the Jefferson Building was constructed:
JOHN BECKLEY 1802-1807
The Northwest Corridor, leading from the Librarian's Room to the Northwest Pavilion, looks out, to the right, on an interior court. The nine lunettes (one at each end of the corridor and seven along the west wall) depict the Muses and were rendered by Edward Simmons, who copyrighted each of his paintings in the lower edge.
According to Greek mythology, the Muses were the goddesses of various departments of Art, Poetry, and Science. Apollo, the god of song, was their father, and Mnemosyne (Memory) their mother. Their names, which appear at the center and top of each lunette by Simmons, are listed below, beginning at the south end of the corridor: Melpomene (Tragedy), Clio (History), Thalia (Comedy and Bucolic Poetry), Euterpe (Lyric Song), Terpsichore (Dancing), Erato (Love Poetry), Polyhymia (Sacred Song), Urania (Astronomy), and Calliope (Epic Poetry).
Three of the paintings have quotations beneath them.
The Northwest Pavilion at the end of the corridor is decorated with medallions containing figures of dancing girls by Robert Leftwich Dodge. A series of the signs of the zodiac, designed by W. Mills Thompson, is in the six arched windows.
Now used primarily for ceremonial purposes, this room was the office of the Librarian of Congress from 1897 until 1980, when the office was moved to the Madison Building. The central disc of the domed ceiling contains a painting by Edward J. Holslag, representing Letters. The following sentence is inscribed on a streamer:
LITERA SCRIPTA MANET [The written word endures]
There are four additional circular paintings in the pendentives (corners) of the dome, signed, like the dome painting, "E. J. Holslag." The inscriptions, starting over the door and moving left to right, read as follows:
IN TENEBRIS LUX [In darkness light]
Lyric Poetry is the decoration theme in the corridor behind the south staircase in the Great Hall.
Above the window at the west end (through which you can see the Capitol and, beyond that, the Mall), a broad border contains an idyllic summer landscape. At the top is a banner with a quotation from Wordsworth:
THE POETS, WHO ON EARTH HAVE MADE US HEIRS
Henry Oliver Walker's mural Lyric Poetry--found at the east end of the corridor--provides the general theme. Lyric Poetry stands with a lyre in the center; the words "Lyric Poetry" can be seen in the lunette border directly above her. Other figures, seen from left to right, are Mirth (boy), Beauty (seated woman), Passion (woman with right arm held high), Pathos (woman standing upward), Truth (standing nude), and Devotion (seated woman).
Henry Oliver Walker's mural "Lyric Poetry," is at the east end of the South Mosaic Corridor, a hallway that celebrates both European and American poets. The Americans are Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, James Russell Lowell, John Greenleaf Whittier, William Cullen Bryant, Walt Whitman, and Edgar Allan Poe.
The names of fifteen Library of Congress employees who died in World War II are inscribed on a marble panel beneath the mural.
Henry Oliver Walker also painted the smaller lunettes along the south and north walls. In each, Walker depicts a youth suggested by works of different English and American poets.
The poets represented on the panels on the south wall and the poem represented by the figure in the lunette are, from east to west:
Alfred Tennyson's poem "Ganymede" is one of six poems depicted in paintings by Henry Oliver Walker in the South Mosaic Corridor. The most famous poet of the Victorian age, Tennyson is well-represented throughout the Jefferson Building; his name is in the ceiling of the Great Hall, and his poetry is also found in the Southwest Corridor on the first floor (The Greek Heroes) and the Great Hall's second floor North Corridor.
The poets represented on the panels along the north wall and the lines referred to are, from east to west:
The names of lyric poets are contained in the mosaic of the ceiling vault. Six Americans are honored on the north side: LONGFELLOW, LOWELL, WHITTIER, BRYANT, WHITMAN, and POE. Poets honored on the south side are the Europeans HEINE, HUGO, MUSSET, BYRON, SHELLEY, and BROWNING. The names of ancient poets are inscribed in the center of the vault: THEOCRITUS, PINDAR, ANACREON, SAPPHO, CATULLUS, HORACE, PETRARCH, and RONSARD.
The Southwest Corridor--leading from the South Mosaic Corridor (Lyric Poetry) to the Southwest Pavilion--looks out, to the left, on an interior court. The nine lunettes (one at each end of the corridor and seven along the west wall) contain paintings by Walter McEwen which represent The Greek Heroes (note the artist's copyright notice on each lunette). Beginning over the doorway at the north end, continuing along the west wall, and ending at the south end, the paintings depict Paris, Jason, Bellerophon, Orpheus, Perseus, Prometheus, Theseus, Achilles, and Hercules. The name of each Greek hero can be seen at the top center of each border. Four of the paintings have quotations beneath them.
Now used by all Members of Congress and their staffs, this richly decorated gallery was reserved for Members of the House of Representatives when the Jefferson Building opened in 1897.
Along the center of the ceiling are panels by Carl Gutherz that represent civilization through the Spectrum of Light. Each of the seven panels, unfortunately rather pale (though the artist's copyright notices are still legible), features a central figure who symbolizes some phase of achievement, human or divine. The cherubs in the corners of each panel represent the arts or sciences, and the escutcheons in each panel present the title of the decoration, the seals of the various states of the nation, and the mottoes of those seals. (Several of the seals do not have mottoes and the seals of California, Minnesota, and South Dakota are omitted altogether.)
The order of the subjects begins with the central panel (Yellow: "Let There Be Light") and moves north (Orange, Red, Violet) and then south (Green, Blue, Indigo) from the center. The several hues of the spectrum are separately diffused over each panel, decreasing in intensity as they recede from the central figures.
Let There Be Light (Yellow)
The subject is the creation of light. The Divine Intelligence, sitting enthroned in the midst of space, utters the words, "Let there be light." (Holy Bible, Genesis: 1:3) The cherubs in the corners represent Physics, Metaphysics, Psychology, and Theology.
FINIS CORONAT OPUS [The end crowns the work]
GLORIA VIRTUTIS UMBRA [Glory the shadow of virtue]
DUM SPIRO SPERO [While I breathe, I hope]
The Light of Excellence (Orange)
The subject of excellence was suggested to the artist by Longfellow's poem, Excelsior. A spirit on a pyramid of steps (signifying Progress) holds a streamer bearing the mottoes: COURAGE, EFFORT, EXCELLENCE, EXCELSIOR. The corner cherubs typify phases of human development regarding Architecture and Art; Transportation; the Phonograph and Telephone; and Invention and Design.
The Light of Poetry (Red)
The genius of Poetry, mounted upon Pegasus, soars aloft. The corner cherubs stand for Tragedy and Comedy; Lyric Poetry; Pastoral Poetry; and Fable.
The Light of State (Violet)
America, or Columbia, supports the shield of the United States; her liberty cap is inscribed "1776." The color was chosen by the artist because violet results from the union of the American colors red, white, and blue. The cherubs in the corners represent Suffrage, Justice, Liberty, and Equality.
The Light of Research (Green)
The central figure is the Spirit of the Lens, which through the telescope and microscope reveals the secrets of the universe. The cherubs represent original investigation and research, specifically in Chemistry, Archeology (Egyptology deciphering the hieroglyphics); and Mineralogy.
The Light of Truth (Blue)
The Spirit of Truth tramples the Dragon of Ignorance and Falsehood and reaches to heaven for a ray of light with which to inflict the final wound. The cherubs hold the level, the plumb, the square, and the Bible, each considered an agent in the presence of Universal Law.
The Light of Science (Indigo)
Science is represented in the figure of Astronomy, who is guided by the soul (represented by a butterfly fluttering above her head) to explore the movement of the heavens. The cherubs represent various phases of astronomical study.
Large mosaic panels by Frederick Dielman, signed and copyrighted, are displayed over the marble fireplaces at each end of the room: Law, at the north, History at the south. In Law the names of the figures INDUSTRY, PEACE, and TRUTH, the friends and supporters of the Law, can be seen on the left side; on the other side of the throne are FRAUD, DISCORD, and VIOLENCE, Law's enemies. In History, the names of the figures MYTHOLOGY and TRADITION, the predecessors of History, can be seen. On either side of the central figure are inscribed the names of great historians: HERODOTUS, THUCYDIDES, POLYBIUS, LIVY, TACITUS, BAEDA, COMINES, HUME, GIBBON, NIEBUHR, GUIZOT, RAMKE, BANCROFT, and MOTLEY.
Frederick Dielman's large mosaic panel "Law" is above the fireplace at the north end of the Members of Congress Reading Room. The friends of Law (Industry, Peace, and Truth) are on the left; its enemies (Fraud, Discord, and Violence) are on the other side of the throne.
Dielman's mosaic "History," above the fireplace at the south end of the room, depicts the predecessors of history (Mythology and Tradition) and lists the names of fourteen great historians including one American, George Bancroft.
Now used by the Library's Council of Scholars, this Southwest Pavilion was originally reserved for use by Members of the Senate. It is entered through a small marble-panelled lobby at the end of the southwest corridor. In his Handbook, Herbert Small called this lobby "one of the most beautiful examples of pure architecture design" to be found in the Library. Small found the whole effect of the lobby's decoration "remarkably fine--a combination of great richness with soberness and refinement."
The lunette over the entrance contains a curved panel by Herbert Adams, with a heraldic wooden shield bearing the monogram "USA." The gold ceiling paintings consist of six square panels by the artist William A. MacKay. In the southwest corner of the pavilion is a fireplace made of Siena marble. Above the fireplace is a sculptured panel by Herbert Adams, the design of which shows an eagle with arrows in its claws and an American shield supported by flying cherubs. The relief is signed, and on the banner beneath the shield is the motto E PLURIBUS UNUM (From one, many).
Part 1 - Part 2
OF CONTENTS - Introduction - A
Brief History of the Library
Library of Congress
Ask a Librarian ( February 9, 2022 )