Image: Main Reading Room. Interior of dome. Library of Congress Thomas Jefferson Building, Washington, D.C.

“On the ceiling of the lantern, which rises above the highest part of the dome, is a painting of a beautiful female figure representing Human Understanding, in the act of lifting the veil of ignorance and looking forward to intellectual progress. She is attended by two cherubs: one is holding the book of wisdom and knowledge and the other seems, by his gesture, to be encouraging viewers beneath to persist in their struggle toward perfection.

Edwin Blashfield painted Human Understanding and the twelve figures that decorate the dome. A mural of twelve seated figures, male and female, are arranged against a wall of mosaic patterning. They represent countries, or epochs, which in 1897, when the building was constructed, were thought to have contributed the most to the evolution of western civilization.

  • Egypt represents Written Records.
  • Judea represents Religion.
  • Greece represents Philosophy.
  • Rome represents Administration.
  • Islam represents Physics.
  • The Middle Ages represent Modern Languages.
  • Italy represents the Fine Arts.
  • Germany represents the Art of Printing.
  • Spain represents Discovery.
  • England represents Literature.
  • France represents Emancipation.
  • America represents Science.”