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Featured Acquisition: Elihu Vedder's Head of Minerva

Elihu Vedder, artist. Head of Minerva
Elihu Vedder, 1836-1923, artist. Head of Minerva
Oil and graphite on canvas, 1896
Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division

This 1896 canvas by leading American mural painter Elihu Vedder is directly related to the 15-foot-high mosaic depicting the full length figure of the goddess Minerva that he designed for the new Jefferson Building. The mosaic is the major focal point of the Great Hall and towers above the staircase leading to the Visitors’ Gallery above the Main Reading Room.

Created in the artist’s studio in Rome, the painting of the head and shoulders was actually a model for artisans in Venice, Italy to follow in creating the final mosaic using small glass and marble tesserae. A close look at Minerva's face reveals that Vedder pencilled in geometric patterns so that the Venetians could properly align their small colorful pieces to create highlights and shadows, and the illusion of three-dimensional form.

The powerful image of the classical goddess of wisdom and learning was conceived as a symbol of the Library of Congress itself.

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  March 25, 2022
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