Saturday, January 9, 2010

Library of Congress

I know. I know.
Some of you equate library with all that is dull and boring.
The Thomas Jefferson Building is unbelievably stunning.
Barry and I spent almost an entire day in this and the Capitol Building alone.
Click these links and prepared to be amazed. Otherwise, let the images from my own simple digital camera do the 'talking'!
I must resign to let them speak for me because quite frankly - the sights left me breathless.

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.

There was a fascinating display on the Gutenberg Bible which I was NOT allowed to take any pictures of. When my spotty internet connection starts behaving (Grrr...) I will link a site so you can "see" it for yourself.
I loved the art work etched into the coves of the vaulted ceiling in the Bible display area.
Above and below are three means of recording Holy Writ: Oral tradition, Monastery scribes manually making copies of scripture and then lo and behold - Johann Gutenberg who was inspired to invent the printing press in the 1500's to make it possible for every average man to possess their own Bible.

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.

The frieze of the Rotunda of the United States Capitol contains a painted panorama depicting significant events in American history. Thomas U. Walter's 1859 cross-section drawing of the new dome (constructed 1855-1863) shows a recessed belt atop the Rotunda walls with relief sculpture. Eventually it was painted in true fresco, a difficult and exacting technique in which the pigments are applied directly onto wet plaster. As the plaster cures the colors become part of the wall. Consequently, each section of plaster must be painted the day it is laid. In 1877 the Architect of the Capitol reported, "The belt of the Rotunda intended to be enriched with basso relievos [low relief] is being embellished in real fresco representing in light and shadow events in our history arranged in chronological order, beginning with the Landing of Columbus . . . ." The frieze is painted in grisaille, a monochrome of whites and browns that resembles sculpture. It measures 8 feet 4 inches in height and approximately 300 feet in circumference. It starts 58 feet above the floor.
Below, an Oil Canvas of The Declaration of Independence
It was the first painting that Trumbull completed for the rotunda. An iconic image and probably the most widely recognized of the paintings in the rotunda, the painting was commissioned in 1817, purchased in 1819 and placed in 1826.

The painting depicts John Adams, Roger Sherman, Robert R. Livingston, Benjamin Franklin, and the principal author, Thomas Jefferson—members of the Committee of Five, which drafted the Declaration of Independence—presenting the declaration to the Second Continental Congress and President John Hancock in July 1776 at Independence Hall in Philadelphia.
Below, an oil canvas depiction of The Baptism of Pocahontas; it was painted by John Gadsby Chapman, given the commission in 1837. The painting was placed in 1840. It depicts Pocahontas in white as she is baptized (under the name "Rebecca") by the Anglican priest Alexander Whiteaker in Jamestown, Virginia. This event is believed to have taken place in 1613 or 1614. The baptism occurred before her marriage to Englishman John Rolfe who stands behind her. Their union is said to be the first recorded marriage between a European and a Native American. The scene symbolizes the belief of some Americans at the time that native tribes should accept Christianity and other European customs of the period.
Below, The Embarkation of the Pilgrims was also commissioned in 1837 and placed in 1844. Painted by Robert W. Weir, it depicts the Pilgrims on the deck of the ship Speedwell as they depart Delfshaven in South Holland on July 22, 1620. The Pilgrims traveled aboard the Speedwell to Southampton. There they met additional colonists and transferred to the Mayflower.

The painting shows William Brewster, holding the Bible, and pastor John Robinson leading Governor Carver, William Bradford, Miles Standish, and their families in prayer. The rainbow, at the left side of the painting, symbolizes hope and divine protection.
Below, The Discovery of the Mississippi was the last painting to be commissioned by Congress for the rotunda. William H. Powell was given the commission in 1847, and the painting was finally purchased in 1855. At the center of the canvas, Spanish navigator and conquistador Hernando de Soto is seen riding a white horse. De Soto is thought to have become the first European to see the Mississippi River in 1541.
The painting depicts de Soto and his troops approaching Native Americans in front of tepees, with a chief holding a peace pipe. The foreground is filled by weapons and soldiers to represent the devastating battle at Mauvila (or Mabila), in which de Soto suffered a Pyrrhic victory over Choctaws under Tuscaloosa. To the right, a monk prays as a large crucifix is set into the ground.

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