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Art + Science

Explore the intersection of art and science in the architecture of this historic building, the printing of the Gutenberg Bible, and in artifacts from cultures of Mesoamerica.

Thomas Jefferson Building - First Floor

Gutenberg Bible - First Floor

This Bible was printed on Johann Gutenberg’s printing press—the first in Western Europe to use uniform, interchangeable, metal type. This technology revolutionized communication. 

A team could use Gutenberg’s press to make 180 copies of the Bible in the same amount of time it took a scribe to copy one. Texts that were once rare flooded all corners of Europe, opening doors for every person who could read to access the world’s accumulated knowledge of science, art, religion, history and more. This explosion of the written word paved the way for the Renaissance, the Reformation, and the Scientific Revolution.

With its noble Gothic type richly impressed on the page, this Bible is recognized as a masterpiece of fine printing and craftsmanship.

This is all the more remarkable because it was undoubtedly one of the very first books to emerge from the press.

Look up and around at the paintings on the walls around the Bible. These murals depict the evolution of the written word and record-keeping. The names in the mosaic ceilings in this space are those of Americans recognized for their contributions to theology, law, and medicine.

Titled The Cairn, Oral Tradition, Egyptian Hieroglyphics, Picture Writing, The Manuscript Book, and last, The Printing Press, the murals here were painted in 1897, when this building first opened. What would you add today?

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The Great Hall - First Floor

Great Hall. View from above of zodiac on the floor, three archways, and grand staircase to left. Library of Congress Thomas Jefferson Building, Washington, D.C.; Photographer Carol M. Highsmith, 2007; Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress)

When the Thomas Jefferson Building opened in 1897, its new technology impressed visitors as much as its beauty. The Thomas Jefferson Building was the first public building in Washington, DC designed with electricity in place.

The female figures at the base of the stairwells hold torches of knowledge, lit with bulbs instead of fire, and represent the mixture of art and science visible throughout the building. The use of bare light bulbs in the Great Hall was intended to emphasize American scientific innovations to the world as the nation entered the global stage.

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Thomas Jefferson Building - Second Floor

Minerva - Second Floor

Second Floor, East Corridor. Mosaic of Minerva by Elihu Vedder within central arched panel leading to the Visitor's Gallery. Library of Congress Thomas Jefferson Building, Washington, D.C. photographer Carol Highsmith, 2007, Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress

This Mosaic was designed by Elihu Vedder and crafted by artisans. It features Minerva, the Roman goddess of wisdom and defensive war. Minerva holds a scroll that depicts fields of study and is not fully unfurled, representing the idea that we still have much to discover.

Minerva is made of glass while the floor mosaics are made of stone. Both materials appear in a variety of colors, depending on the chemicals and minerals present. Iron oxide creates yellow marble. Likewise, cadmium sulfide creates yellow glass. The mosaics in the building, like the architecture itself, represent a meeting of art and science, requiring both an artistic eye and mathematical and spatial analysis.

Main Reading Room – Second Floor

From the visitor overlook, view the stunning Main Reading Room, where researchers with a Library of Congress reader’s card can use the general collections. In the dome above, twelve large figures represent different eras or regions of the world and a late nineteenth century view of their important contributions to western civilization. The eight figures between the windows symbolize areas of knowledge – Art, Science, Religion, Commerce, History, Philosophy, Poetry, and Law. Flanking them on the balustrade below, sixteen bronze statues represent men famous for their contributions to each area.

Quotations – Second Floor

Search the ceilings on the second floor to find quotations on knowledge, science, and art, including:

    Herbert Spencer, Essays, "The Genesis of Science," Vol. ii, 1.
    Keats, Ode on a Grecian Urn
    Emerson, Essays, "The Poet"
    Tennyson, Locksley Hall, Stanza 72

Exploring the Early Americas - Second Floor

Calendars in the Early Americas

The development of accurate calendars requires sophisticated mathematical calculations. Like other cultures around the world, the pre-contact American peoples developed methods of measuring time based on astronomical observations of the movements of heavenly bodies. The artifacts here represent the system developed by the ancient Maya, which was astronomically more accurate than the Julian calendar used in Europe until 1582. They demonstrate the relationship between astronomical observation, mathematics, and the measurement of time.

Waldseemüller’s 1507 World Map - Second Floor

Universalis cosmographia secundum Ptholomaei traditionem et Americi Vespucii alioru[m]que lustrationes. Geography & Maps Division, Library of Congress

Martin Waldseemüller’s 1507 world map represents a significant innovation in European geography. It is the first map to clearly depict a Western Hemisphere, a separate Pacific Ocean, and what was then considered a new continent, labeled “America.” This representation includes data gathered during Amerigo Vespucci’s voyages of 1501–1502 and shows how cartography, or mapmaking, combines data with artisan traditions of detailed, hand-cut, woodblock prints.

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Hall of the Sciences

Second Floor, Northwest Pavilion. Mural of Science in the Pavilion of Art and Science by William De Leftwich Dodge. Library of Congress Thomas Jefferson Building, Washington, D.C.

Before you exit, look up to view the beautiful Hall of the Sciences. The paintings in this corridor represent branches of science. Each muse holds artifacts from her subject and elements of that trade are incorporated into her dress. Across the Mezzanine is the hall of literature, which has similar muses representing genres such as comedy and fantasy.

At the Library, you can explore connections across between many fields of study. We hope you come back soon, to the building or to the Library online, to discover more, ask questions, and use our collections to explore the connections that make you curious.

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