Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Looking in at the Boston Public Library

The McKim Building of the Boston Public Library is one of the most beautiful public spaces in Boston. I took a few quick photos earlier this month, on my way to look at the Sargent Murals on the third floor.

The staircase is decorated with a set of neoclassical murals by Puvis de Chavannes:

Yellow Sienese marble gives the staircase and the arcade above a golden glow on even the grayest winter day:

And there are cats:

John Singer Sargent's Triumph of Religion murals, installed in 1919, are perhaps his grandest, most imaginative and visionary works. That said, I prefer his dashed-off watercolors and many of his quieter portraits and landscapes to this tour de force. But on a cold winter afternoon, this much beauty, color, and gold does act like a tonic.

Here you've got an Egyptian pharaoh and his weird, winged god battling an Assyrian king and his gods, with a bunch of young, naked guys directly in the line of fire. Meanwhile, downstairs, Moses is trying to present his Commandments despite the racket, but no one can hear a thing:

The mural cycle is unfinished; some say Sargent abandoned it because he was grieving over the death of his beloved niece and model Rose Marie, who had died at 24 the previous spring, in Paris, when the church where she was attending a Good Friday concert was hit by a German missile. Rose Marie appears in the mural as a medieval woman symbolizing The Church. I didn't get a good photo; the murals are dimly lit so it's hard to shoot many of them. Read more about Rose Marie and her portrait in the mural here.

Thinking of Rose Marie always breaks my heart, but we were in an unusually buoyant mood that day: the Patriots had just won the Super Bowl against all odds, tying the game at the last minute, and then winning in unprecedented overtime. So when I saw this group, I thought they could be subtitled SB LI: The Fourth Quarter. The battle had been epic. Watching it felt like this:

I am not sure who this goddess is supposed to be, but I'm pretty sure those are gold 3D pinecones shooting out of the background. And I'm all for it.

You can read more about the murals on the BPL's website.


  1. Our public library has some artwork, but it certainly doesn't compare to John Singer Sargent's murals! Fantastic stuff! And those lions are wonderful.

  2. can you imagine being there for when it first opened.. the spectacle of it all


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