DC -- Library of Congress -- Room: Main Reading Room (room itself):
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Description of Subject Matter: THE MAIN READING ROOM
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:
THE INQUIRY, KNOWLEDGE, AND BELIEF OF TRUTH
IS THE SOVEREIGN GOOD OF HUMAN NATURE.
Bacon, Essays, "Of Truth"
Above the figure of Art:
AS ONE LAMP LIGHTS ANOTHER, NOR GROWS LESS,
SO NOBLENESS ENKINDLETH NOBLENESS.
Above the figure of History:
ONE GOD, ONE LAW, ONE ELEMENT, AND ONE FAR-OFF DIVINE EVENT,
TO WHICH THE WHOLE CREATION MOVES
Tennyson, In Memoriam
Above the figure of Commerce:
WE TASTE THE SPICES OF ARABIA YET NEVER FEEL
THE SCORCHING SUN WHICH BRINGS THEM FORTH.
Anon. [Dudley North, East India Trade]
Above the figure of Religion:
WHAT DOTH THE LORD REQUIRE OF THEE, BUT TO DO JUSTLY,
AND TO LOVE MERCY, AND TO WALK HUMBLY WITH THY GOD?
Holy Bible, Micah 6:8
Above the figure of Science:
THE HEAVENS DECLARE THE GLORY OF GOD;
AND THE FIRMAMENT SHEWETH HIS HANDIWORK.
Holy Bible, Psalms 19:1
Above the figure of Law:
OF LAW THERE CAN BE NO LESS ACKNOWLEDGED
THAN THAT HER VOICE IS THE HARMONY OF THE WORLD.
Above the figure of Poetry:
HITHER, AS TO THEIR FOUNTAIN, OTHER STARS REPAIRING,
IN THEIR GOLDEN URNS DRAW LIGHT.
Milton, Paradise Lost, vii, 364
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.
PLATO and BACON. Both by John Joseph Boyle
MICHAELANGELO, by Paul Wayland Bartlett
BEETHOVEN, by Theodore Baur
HERODOTUS, by Daniel Chester French
GIBBON, by Charles H. Niehaus
COLUMBUS, by Paul Wayland Bartlett
FULTON, by Edward Clark Potter
ST. PAUL, by John Donoghue
MOSES, by Charles H. Niehaus
NEWTON, by Cyrus Edwin Dallin
HENRY, by Herbert Adams
SOLON, by Frederick Wellington Ruckstull
KENT, by George Edwin Bissell
SHAKESPEARE, by Frederick MacMonnies
HOMER, by Louis Saint-Gaudens
The Athenian statesman, lawgiver, and reformer Solon 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."
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