Of all the amazing cultural attractions on the Washington DC Mall this is by far the best kept secret. If you appreciate knowledge, Enlightenment values, and science, then you MUST spend an afternoon in this room, appreciating every nook and cranny. America’s Founders were very wise individuals with a strong appreciation for education and knowledge.
(Click for Flickr Set)
There are names of philosophers, naturalists, and scientists everywhere. Proverbs meditating on Deism and knowledge abound. There are paintings of women representing the different types of literature, from history to erotica. Evidence of America’s love of science is found all throughout the building, as with a collection of cherub sculptures depicting the many noble professions, one of which is entomology, a cherub chasing a butterfly with a net.
There are statues and paintings representing the different nations and cultures of the world, and what each contributes to world culture. Germany is credited with the “Art of Painting,” France is “Empancipation,” England is “Literature,” Spain is “Discovery,” Egypt is “Written Records,” Judea is “Religion,” Greece is “Philosophy,” Islam is “Physics,” the Middle Ages is “Modern Languages,” Italy is the “Fine Arts”…
Dome of the Jefferson Reading Room
Courtesy of Wikimedia
Detail of America as Science in the Jefferson Reading Room Dome
Courtesy of Wikimedia
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.”
There are also eight symbolic statues in the reading room, representing philosophy, art, history, commerce, religion, law, poetry, and science. Accompanying these are sixteen bronze statues of individuals representing accomplishments in these categories of knowledge, with Newton and Henry representing science.
Library of Congress, Jefferson Reading Room
The Jefferson Reading room is off-limits to visitors and photography from the observation deck is prohibited. Even if it wasn’t, the science-related statues cannot be seen from the observation deck. I looked through all the books in the LOC gift shop and could not find photos of these statues either. So if anyone can find photographs of these statues, I and America would be eternally grateful.
My favorite of all these are the mosaics of women representing the arts of the sciences. Each woman is depicted mastering some element of nature through science, be it fire, venom, or the heavens.
It took me four trips to this room to get photos of these murals, which I have not been able to find anywhere else on the Internet. I’m licensing these Creative Commons, so please reuse and redistribute!
Women of Science
Top: Chemistry, Zoology, Astronomy, Geology
Bottom: Botany, Physics, Mathematics, Archaeology
(Click for Flickr Set)
I’ve taken my photos of these faded murals and have adjusted the brightness, contrast, and color levels to enhance their beauty. The results I’ve posted below.
Archaeology is depicted reading a large book with a magnifying glass. She stands on an artificial structure, with a pottery at her feet. Her clothes are more extravagant than the other women, and she wears a much jewelry and accessories.
Astronomy stands at the apex of a hill or mountain, the crescent moon at her feet. She carries Saturn in her left hand, a celestial object, and what may be a lens in her right. It’s as if the lens makes the immense heavenly body her plaything.
Botany is clad in green robes, standing on lily pads. In her hands she cradles a lotus bloom. The joy in her face is apparent as she appreciates the intricacies of the bloom’s unfolding petals.
Chemistry toils over a pedestal with a cobra coiled around it. She is using a retort to distill liquid. Is she manufacturing an antidote from the snake’s venom?
Geology stands on rocky soil, apparent from the mountains in the distance behind her. In her left hand she carries a glass orb and in her right a seashell fossil.
I love the fact that Mathematics is pretty much naked, fitting for her stature as the “pure” science. Her right foot rests upon a block with “MMX” inscribed upon it. I am unable to identify what it is she carries in her hands. Is it a scroll? A geometric shape?
There is wind or water flashing behind Physics, a demonstration of nature’s physical powers. Her right foot depresses the Earth where she stands. In her left hand, she carries a torch, and with her right hand manipulates the flame.
Zoology is clad in animal skins, her stride cast in a dynamic pose, as if she were prowling like the Lion resting at her feet, which she caresses as her pet.
See the complete flickr set here. Very high resolution photos included. The Library of Congress also has a write-up of most of the details you will find as you explore the Jefferson Library. There is also a beautiful book detailing almost everything in the library titled The Library of Congress: the art and architecture of the Thomas Jefferson Building, which you may preview with Google Books.