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The "Evolution of Civilization" painting as design on the dome of the Thomas Jefferson Building at the Buildings of Library of Congress

 

 

Edwin Howland Blashfield's murals, which adorn the dome of the Main Reading Room, occupy the central and the highest point of the building and form the culmination of the entire interior decorative scheme. The round mural set inside the lantern of the dome depicts Human Understanding, looking upward beyond the finite intellectual achievements represented by the twelve figures in the collar of the dome.

These twelve seated figures represent the twelve countries, or epochs, which Blashfield felt contributed most to American civilization. To the immediate right of each figure is a tablet on which is inscribed the name of the country typified and, below this, the name of the outstanding contribution of that country to human progress.

The figures follow each other in chronological order, beginning in the east, the cradle of civilization. The figures and their respective inscriptions are:

EGYPT: WRITTEN RECORDS: The personal seal of Mena, the first Egyptian King, is inscribed in hieroglypics in the tablet.

 

JUDEA: RELIGION: On the face of the pillar is inscribed, in Hebrew characters, the injunction: Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. (Holy Bible, Leviticus 19:18)
 

GREECE: PHILOSOPHY

ROME: ADMINISTRATION

ISLAM: PHYSICS

THE MIDDLE AGES: MODERN LANGUAGES

ITALY: THE FINE ARTS

GERMANY: THE ART OF PAINTING

SPAIN: DISCOVERY

ENGLAND: LITERATURE

The figure is holding a facsimile of the first edition of Shakespeare's A Midsummer's Night Dream, printed in 1600.

 

FRANCE: EMANCIPATION: The figure is holding "Les Droits de l'Homme," The Declaration of the Rights of Man adopted by the French Assembly in 1789.

AMERICA: SCIENCE

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."

 

 

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