The Spectacular Ceilings of Central Library

Don’t forget to look up when you visit the two-story high second floor of Central Library, or you’ll miss some of the most striking decorations of the building. Before entering from the Olive Street stairs, notice the ceiling of the entrance portico. Its sparkling glass mosaics feature trees, owls, and eagles.

The entrance hall’s ceiling is painted in muted tones that mirror those of the marble that supports it. Portraits of King Louis IX of France (Saint Louis), the explorer Hernando De Soto, inventor of movable type Johann Gutenberg, and influential early printer Aldus Manutius appear between floral decorative motifs.

To the right, the ceiling of the History and Languages Room is a reproduction of the graceful garland designs of one of the most renowned libraries in the world, the Laurentian Library in Florence, Italy. The powerful Medici family commissioned Michelangelo to design their library in 1523.

Across the entry hall, the Fine Arts Room ceiling is also based on a Florentine one, that of the abbey of Florence, La Badia. Molded plaster is painted to resemble the original’s dark wood, dating from the early 17th century. Lurking within the ivy scrollwork and deeply recessed geometric patterns are grimacing “green men”, mysterious symbols of the natural world.

The ceiling of the Great Hall is perhaps the most spectacular of them all – a coffered High Renaissance expanse of golden rosettes within red octagons set in gold squares. The chandeliers hanging from this ceiling are the only surviving original lighting of the building.

Flanking the Great Hall, the Entertainment, Literature, Biography Room and the Social Sciences Room are both adorned with wooden beamed ceilings charmingly painted with various symbols of knowledge and learning such as owls, dolphins, cornucopias, and torches.

From September through April, docent tours of the building are held on Mondays at 11:00 am and Saturdays at 11:00, noon, and 1:00 pm.  You will see these ceilings and much more. If you haven't experienced this wonderful building yet, it's worth the trip!

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