Library of Congress

Where you’ll feel guilty for not being smarter

September 20, 2012

The Great Hall is a festive mix of murals, statues, columns and stained glass.

What you won’t see: books. At least, not many. What you will see is an explosion of classical and Renaissance decor glorifying all things knowledge-related: Greek and Roman gods, allegorical figures, torchbearers, great men of the arts and sciences, stern exhortations to study.

Welcome to the Thomas Jefferson Building, the piece of the Library of Congress open to sightseers. (There are three buildings; the stacks are closed to all, and the reading rooms are open only to those who obtain an LoC Reader Identification Card.)

The big men on this campus are two Bibles, both from Mainz, Germany, both created in the 1450s. One was handwritten by a single scribe. The other is a Gutenberg, printed using movable type; only two other perfect vellum (calfskin) copies remain in the world. The second floor overlooks the Main Reading Room’s coffered gold dome and the outpouring of murals, statues and friezes in and around it. Look for the engineer in the ceiling mural — he’s a ringer for Abraham Lincoln.

Library of Congress, 10 1st St. SE; Mon.-Sat. 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m., free; 202-707-8000. (Capitol South)

Did You Know?

›› The infants carved into the Great Hall staircases are putti — figures of naked babies popular in Renaissance art. These little guys represent different professions, none of which are suitable for small children: hunter, electrician, vintner, etc.

›› The only nonallegorical, non-goddess woman to be recognized in the Thomas Jefferson Building is Greek poet Sappho. Her name appears in a corridor dedicated to poets on the first floor.

›› The shiny stuff adorning the Great Hall ceiling is aluminum, which was more precious than gold when the building was constructed.

Learn More! Explore D.C., a free iPhone app from The Washington Post, is a guide to the city’s attractions, big and small. Download it today from the App Store.

Comments
Show Comments
Most Read
Next Story
Kristen Page-Kirby · September 20, 2012