Boston Public Library – Art and Architecture 11/28/15

Toured the Boston Public Library’s historic McKim building, a marvel of marble and murals. So much to see and read about. And it’s all free!

The library anchors historic Copley Square, named for the Revolutionary War era artist John Singleton Copley, who painted the well-known portrait of Paul Revere. The entrance is grand, imposing, and the facade makes a great backdrop for the New Years Eve laser light show.


The statues flanking the 3 front doors symbolize science on the left, and Art, on the right. Note her paintbrush, palette, and the names of artists around her:


The entrance foyer is a visual overload of vaulted ceilings, different colors of marble, statues and reliefs. And an info desk – this is a working public library.

There’s the statue of Henry Vane, a governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1636 (when Harvard was founded). Intriguing plaque: Born 1613 Beheaded 1662. Apparently a proponent of religious freedom, who got in trouble with Charles II when he returned to England.

Then you’re facing the giant bronze doors by Daniel Chester French – we saw the models at Chesterwood, his studio out in the Berkshires this summer.


The vaulted ceiling has mosaics with the names of famous Bostonians:


Then you’re facing the marble stairway, with two giant lions, surrounded by murals of the Puvis de Chavannes Gallery.

From the Chavannes Gallery, we head into the sumptuous Abbey Room, with 15 paintings by Edwin Austin Abbey telling the story of the Quest for the Holy Grail. The dramatic ceiling is modeled on a ceiling in the Doge’s Palace in Venice. This room is lined with built-in benches, and it’s where patrons would wait for their books to be retrieved after submitting their request.

He "achieves" the Grail, top right

He “achieves” the Grail, top right











Then we’re into Bates Hall, which runs the length of the front of the building, with those huge arched windows. Love the view of the Prudential and Hancock Buildings.


Bates Hall

The Boylston Room has a lovely entrance, and the Elliot Room has a ceiling mural “The Passage of Time.”

IMG_6778 IMG_6779

Then it’s upstairs to the Sargent Gallery, for John Singer Sargent’s masterwork series of murals The Triumph of Religion. Sargent was trying to portray his theme that learning and education are the true spirituality, superseding organized religion, and that true, triumphant religion is a personal, internal matter. But his representation of old, decrepit Synagogue, compared to beautiful young Church created a controversy for its apparent antisemitism – and seemed to fly in the face of the Constitution. The state legislature even voted to remove the works. World War I intervened, but Sargent never completed his final panel that might have drawn the whole together, his Sermon on the Mount. The work is beautiful, with  paint, gold, flat and 3-dimensional reliefs combined. These photos don’t do it justice.

The Wiggins Gallery had a lovely collection of dioramas depicting scenes of artists at work.

The McKim Building encircles the Courtyard, a nice spot to rest and read on a sunny day.

Even though I visited the library during my school years, I’d only been in the new building which looks like a concrete warehouse, housing the stacks for circulation. All these years, I’d never toured the old, historic section of the library, and had no idea of the artwork inside. What a treat!


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