The Thomas Jefferson Building: A Virtual Tour of the Library of Congress

Second Floor

In the vaulted ceiling of the East Corridor are a series of eight paintings by George Barse Jr. depict figures that represent various facets of Literature. Along the center of the ceiling is a series of three paintings on the Life of Man by William A. Mackay, representing infant to mature adult and finally aged man with a cane. At the north and south ends of the ceiling is a tablet bearing the names of Americans who made significant contributions to the machinery and production of printing.

At the rear of the East Corridor is a staircase that leads to a Visitors' Gallery from which you can view the Main Reading Room (pictured in the image on the right). On the first landing as you go up the staircase, observe in front of you Elihu Vedder's large marble mosaic portrait of the Minerva of Peace, part of her armor laid aside, standing guard before the Main Reading Room. On her right is a statue of Victory; at her left, her symbol, the owl. She is holding in her hand a scroll that lists various departments of learning, science and art.

Maps and Floor Plans for the Library of Congress

A labelled map of the Second Floor of the Jefferson Building is available.

From the Visitors' Gallery you will be able to see the domed ceiling, stretching 160 feet above the floor of the Main Reading Room (picture on the left). The female figure painted in the cupola by Edwin Blashfield represents Human Understanding, which is visible only to those in the Reading Room below (not visible in the image on the left). The dozen 10-foot-high figures in the circular mural at the apex of the dome, also painted by Blashfield, represent the countries or epochs that contributed to the development of Western civilization. Stained glass representations of the seals of 48 states (excluding Alaska and Hawaii) adorn the eight semicircular windows surrounding the Reading Room. Eight giant marble columns each support 10-foot-high allegorical female figures in plaster representing characteristic features of civilized life and thought: Religion, Commerce, History, Art, Philosophy, Poetry, Law and Science.

Image of Bronze statues of Michelangelo and Beethoven; and statue of Art above the columns

The 16 bronze statues set upon the balustrades of the galleries pay homage to men whose lives symbolized the thought and activity represented by the plaster statues below. Included are Moses and St. Paul (Religion); Christopher Columbus and Robert Fulton (Commerce); Herodotus and Edward Gibbon (History); Michelangelo and Ludwig van Beethoven (Art); Plato and Francis Bacon (Philosophy); Homer and William Shakespeare (Poetry); Solon and James Kent (Law); and Isaac Newton and Joseph Henry (Science). The circle of knowledge is completed by the reader desks, as users of the Main Reading Room make their own contributions to the various fields of knowledge represented by the paintings and statuary in the room. Visit the Main Reading Room as well as all of the other online reading room and information center home pages via the Services for Researchers page.

North Corridor

Image of Robert Reid's Wisdom (circular painting)In the North Corridor of the Great Hall, you will see ceiling paintings by Robert Reid representing The Five Senses. Beginning at the west end or the front of the building, they are Taste, Sight, Smell, Hearing and Touch. In the four circular paintings along the wall, Reid has portrayed Wisdom (shown on the left), Understanding, Knowledge, Philosophy. In the arch beneath the ceiling at the west end of the corridor are five semicircular or circular tablets, two of which contain the obverse and reverse of the Great Seal of the United States. The other three carry inscriptions from Pope, Cicero and Emerson regarding order, memory and beauty, respectively. In the same position at the opposite or eastern end of the corridor is a painting of the Western Hemisphere.

Northwest Gallery and Pavilion

Image of Peace (Northwest Gallery, Thomas Jefferson Building)The Northwest Gallery and Pavilion is used from time to time for changing exhibitions. The murals at each end of the long gallery were painted by Gari Melchers, echoing themes of paintings he had done for the World's Columbian Exposition at Chicago in 1893. They are War at the far or north end of the room as you enter from the Great Hall; and Peace (shown on the right) at the south end. The far end of the gallery opens to the domed Pavilion of Art and Science containing murals by William de Leftwich Dodge depicting Literature, Music, Science and Art. In the apex of the dome is his painting of Ambition, considered the incentive for all human effort. There are similar pavilion spaces in all four corners of the first and second floors of the Jefferson Building. The African and Middle Eastern Reading Room is located off of the Pavilion of Art and Science.

Other Features

In each of the four corners of the Great Hall, are a series of panels, painted in rich Pompeian red with female figures representing The Virtues, by George Willoughby Maynard. Eight in all, Industry and Concord are located at the northwest corner; Fortitude and Justice (shown on the right and left) are found in the northeast corner; Temperance and Prudence are located at the southwest corner; and Patriotism and Courage are found in the southeast corner. Another interesting feature is the series of 56 printers' marks that adorn the triangular penetrations of the ceiling vaults all around the four corridors of the Second Floor of the Great Hall. These marks are reproductions of the devices that early printers used on the title pages of their books, partly as a kind of informal trademark to protect their work and partly as a personal emblem representing a publisher of good standing. Some more modern printers marks may be found along the north corridor, along with that of one of the most famous printers of all time, William Caxton.

West and South Corridors

The ceiling paintings in the vaults of the west corridor by Walter Shirlaw depict The Sciences. At either end of the ceiling is a tablet bearing a list of names of men distinguished in the sciences that are represented in the paintings. There are also three medallions in the center of the corridor by William B. Van Ingen depicting Sculpture, Architecture and Painting.

Photo by Carol M. Highsmith: Summer by Frank BensonThe South Corridor parallels the north. Frank W. Benson's paintings at the center of the vaulted ceiling depict The Three Graces, balancing Reid's paintings from the North Corridor. Appearing in the arch at the western end are painted semicircular and circular medallions, containing a caduceus, associated with the Greek god Hermes, and a lictor's ax, carried by an official before a Roman magistrate to show authority. At the opposite end, echoing the Western Hemisphere painted in the North Corridor, is a painting of the Eastern Hemisphere.

The four circular wall paintings in the South Corridor, also by Benson, depict The Four Seasons. The artist has painted a half-length figure of a beautiful young woman to represent each season, using subtle differences in colors, foliage and background to distinguish one season from another (pictured on the right is Summer).

Southwest Gallery and Pavilion (Treasures Gallery)

Located in the Southwest Gallery and Pavilion to your right as you walk through the South Corridor is the Treasures Gallery, which features a permanent exhibition of some of the Library's most interesting and significant treasures of American history as well as unique and fascinating examples of the nation's cultural heritage.

Special Presentation:

American Treasures of the Library of Congress, a permanent exhibition in the Treasures Gallery (Southwest Gallery and Pavilion) can be viewed online.

Image of Maynard's four stages of a nation's development: Courage, Valor, Fortitude and AchievementThe large murals at each end of the Treasures Gallery were painted by Kenyon Cox. The Sciences are the subject of the painting at the far end of the gallery as you enter from the Great Hall; The Arts are shown in the mural at the north end, behind you. The far end of the Treasures Gallery opens to domed Pavilion of the Discoverers. The paintings here are the work of George W. Maynard, and the subjects are: Adventure, Discovery, Conquest and Civilization. The spirit of Adventure leads to Discovery, which in turn leads to Conquest and then Civilization. At the center of the dome, Maynard has selected the four qualities he finds are the most appropriate to these four stages of a nation's development: Courage, Valor, Fortitude and Achievement. Located off of the Southwest Pavilion, is the European Reading Room.

More Information:

Special in-depth tours are available for the Librarian's Room and the Members of Congress Room. It is also possible to view more maps and birds-eye views of the Library of Congress from the Maps and Floorplans page.

Library of Congress
Contact Us ( May 18, 2007 )