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

First Floor of the Thomas Jefferson Building

Image of The central entrance door - The Art of PrintingThe Library's Jefferson Building faces the Capitol of the United States on the First Street side. The Main Entrance to the building's first floor consists of three double, bronze entrance doors, weighing a total of 3 tons, depict Tradition, Writing and Printing (shown in the image on the right). They represent how history, religion, literature and science have been preserved and disseminated by man. The doors were modeled by Frederick MacMonnies, Olin L. Warner and Herbert Adams and are now opened only for special occasions.

After entering the building from these doors, or coming up one flight of stairs from the Ground Floor Visitors' Entrance, you will find yourself in the West Corridor of the Library's ornate Great Hall, also known as the Vestibule

Maps and Floor Plans for the Library of Congress

A labeled map of the First Floor of the Jefferson Building is available.

West Corridor, or Vestibule, of the Great Hall

West Corridor, or Vestibule, of the Library of Congress Great HallThe West Corridor on the First Floor of the Library of Congress' Jefferson Building serves as the Vestibule to the Great Hall (pictured in the image on the left). The Great Hall is constructed of white Italian marble and occupies a large portion of the front of the building.

The stucco ceiling of the Vestibule is accented with 23 karat gold leaf. Around the border of the ceiling stand eight pairs of statues (seen directly above the columns in the image on the left) representing the Goddess Minerva. The work of Herbert Adams, each pair contains a Minerva of War -- carrying the torch of learning in one hand and a falchion, or short, stout sword, in the other -- and the Minerva of Peace -- carrying a globe, signifying the universal scope of knowledge, and a scroll. Minerva and the owl, her symbol, are repeated throughout the Great Hall.

The Great Hall

Image of Great Hall facing the Entrance to the Library's Main Reading RoomOnce in the Great Hall, you will be able to appreciate the grandeur of the architecture. The ceiling, 75 feet above the marble floor, is decorated with stained glass skylights supported by elaborately paneled beams finished in aluminum leaf. In the center of the marble floor is a large brass inlay shaped like a sun, on which are inscribed the four cardinal points of the compass. Bordering the sun on four sides are round medallions with 12 brass inlays representing the signs of the zodiac. In niches on the west side of the hall are two bronze masks formerly used as drinking fountains.

On the east side is the Commemorative Arch leading back to the Main Reading Room (pictured in the image on the right). Inscribed into the frieze above are the words Library of Congress. Above that, flanked by eagles, is a tablet with the names of the engineers and architects who were responsible for the design and construction of the Jefferson Building.

Image of the detail on one staircase in the Library of Congress' Great HallTwo grand staircases that display the work of sculptor Philip Martiny flank the Great Hall (one of these staircases is shown in the image to the left). Upon the newel post at the base of the railing of each staircase stands an unnamed, larger-than-life-size bronze female figure holding aloft a torch. Be sure to look closely at the marble figures carved into the outside of the railings. These putti, or small children, complete with the tools of their trade, represent the various occupations, habits and pursuits of "modern life": a musician with lyre and music book; an electrician holding a telephone; and an entomologist, with specimen box and butterfly net; among others. Note especially the two figures flanking globes halfway up the staircase on each side. On the south side of the hall are represented Africa and America, with those continents shown on the globe between them; on the north side are Europe and Asia.

East Corridor

Photo of John White Alexander's painting of Johann Gutenberg at his The East Corridor features a vaulted ceiling is covered with mosaics honoring Americans and their achievements in a variety of professions: painting, poetry, engineering, natural philosophy, architecture, natural science, music, sculpture and astronomy. Along the central portion of the ceiling are three medallions depicting the professions of theology, law and medicine.

John White Alexander's six paintings in the semicircular areas below the vaulted ceilings illustrate The Evolution of the Book. As you stand looking into the Great Hall, notice the progression, left to right, from human memory to the spoken, written and printed word in human history. Beneath the painting of The Printing Press, depicting Johann Gutenberg (pictured in the image above right), is a memorial to the men of the Library of Congress who died in World War I.

Image of the Gutenberg BibleTwo of the Library's great treasures, the Gutenberg Bible (shown in the image on the left) and the Giant Bible of Mainz, are displayed in separate cases here in the East Corridor. Both volumes were produced in Mainz, Germany, in the mid-1450s; one is written by hand, in manuscript, while the other is the first book printed with movable metal type. The Library's three-volume Gutenberg Bible is one of three perfect vellum copies in existence.

In the rear of the East Corridor is the former entrance to the Main Reading Room, with paintings by Elihu Vedder depicting good and bad government and the effects of each: Anarchy, Corrupt Legislation, Government, Good Administration and Peace and Prosperity.

North Corridor

Recreation by Charles The paintings in the North Corridor by Charles Sprague Pearce represent the themes of a well-ordered and idyllic existence: The Family, Recreation, Study, Labor, Religion and Rest. You will also find the names and service dates of all the Librarians of Congress inscribed on the wall below the group portrait of The Family (the painting on the right is entitled "Recreation"). To the left of the engraving is a small doorway, above which is carved the word Librarian. This is the entrance to The Librarian's Room (once the office for the Librarian of Congress), now used only for ceremonial occasions.

Special In-Depth Tour:

The Librarian's Room can be viewed in detail through a special "in-depth" tour.

The corridor to the right leads to three special-purpose rooms where portions of the libraries of Ralph Ellison, Oliver Wendell Holmes and Woodrow Wilson can be seen by special arrangement.

South Corridor

Here the paintings by Henry Oliver Walker honor poets. The names of American poets, Longfellow to Poe, appear in wreaths in the mosaic of the vaulted ceiling on the north side; ancient and non-American poets, Theocritus to Ronsard and Browning to Heine, can be found in the central medallions and the wreaths on the south side.

Image of the mural at the eastern end of the corridor showing Lyric Poetry surrounded by her attributesAn idyllic summer landscape occupies the west end of the corridor with three seated female figures and a youth representing the moods of lyric poetry. Wordsworth's words about poets are painted in the streamer over the landscape. For the smaller lunettes on the north and south walls, Walker has painted single youthful male figures suggested in various poems by English and American poets: Milton and Shakespeare on the north wall and Tennyson, Keats, Wordsworth and Emerson on the south side of the corridor. The mural at the eastern end of the corridor shows Lyric Poetry surrounded by her attributes -- Pathos, Truth, Devotion, Passion, Beauty and Mirth (shown on the left). Inscribed in the marble beneath this painting is a memorial to the men of the Library of Congress who died in World War II. The corridor to the right, with The Members of Congress Room and the Congressional Reading Room, is reserved for the use of members of Congress.

Special In-Depth Tour:

The Members of Congress Room (rarely seen by the public) can be viewed detail through this special "in-depth" tour.

To continue your tour, proceed to the Second Floor of the Thomas Jefferson Building.

Library of Congress
Contact Us ( April 23, 2003 )