Main Reading Room from upper gallery--seen through protective glass (plexiglas?) and domed ceilingThe Reading Rooms is octagonal with eight huge piers supporting arches with a circular entablature from which the dome rises. The piers are set forward, creating two-story arcades behind marble screens. Towering twice life-size statues, representing eight branches of learning, punctuate the tops of the clustered piers. Two statues of historical figures representing each of the eight disciplines stand on the upper balcony. (For example, Art, an almost nude figure carrying a model of the Parthenon, is flanked by figures on the balcony representing Michelangelo and Beethoven; see center image below.) The semi circular windows, framed by the alcove arches, are 32 feet wide at the base with stained glass images of the United States seal and on either side of the US seal (6 in each window) are representations of the seals of the 48 states existing at the time. Viewed from the gallery, they are in chronological order, as they became states, running counter-clockwise from Delaware, which is above those in the gallery. [thanks to Tim Schurtter (Program Officer,
Veterans History Project, Library of Congress) for this information about the seals]
The coffered dome, divided in eight stucco panels, was designed by sculptor Albert Weinert. The rosette coffers decrease in size toward the oculus, thus making the height of the dome seem greater. (The domed ceiling is 160 feet high--from the floor to the top of the lantern; or it is 125 feet from the floor to the top of the dome.) The painting at the "collar" of the dome by Edwin Howland Blashfield depicts the Evolution of Civilization with twelve colossal figures representing various countries or epochs and their contributions to civilization. The first is Egypt, which gave written records, and the last America, illustrated as an engineer with a dynamo in front of him, to represent advancements in science.