The following is a guest post by Donna Sokol, Special Assistant to the Law Librarian of Congress. Donna will be your virtual docent for a series of posts related to themes of law in the art and architecture of the Library of Congress Jefferson Building. She has previously written on the mosaic vaults and paintings in the East Corridor, the mezzanine level of the Great Hall, the Main Reading Room, and less-traveled spaces. In this installment, she explores the Members Room.
Today, we are in one of the more intimate spaces in the Jefferson Building. Given the scale of the halls we have seen elsewhere in the building, to call this room small means I can still fit my entire house inside it. But I digress.
Now called the Members of Congress Room (or just “Members Room”), this space was originally the House of Representatives Reading Room, a place where representatives could do research and get personalized reference services from Library staff. The House of Representatives Reading Room and the Senate Reading Room next door (now called the Thomas Jefferson Congressional Reading Room, it serves both chambers of Congress) were, understandably, the first two spaces completed in the building when it opened in 1897.
Two large fireplaces of Siena marble anchor either end of the Members Room. German-born American artist, Frederick Dielman, designed the two mosaics – Law and History – that sit over the mantles. He drew the full-sized cartoons and sent the drawings to Venice, Italy, where the master mosaicists executed his design.
A woman representing Law sits on a throne in the center of the mosaic. She holds a sword in her left hand, ready to punish wrong-doers, and in her right hand, she holds a palm branch, which represents a reward for the good. She wears the same bodice – scaled armor surrounded by entwined serpents and featuring the head of Medusa – worn by Minerva and the Main Reading Room’s portrait statue of Law.
The right side of the mosaic shows three figures – Fraud, Discord, and Violence – that represent the result of a lawless land. Fraud covers herself with her robe to hide the truth of her unlawful activities. Discord holds two duelling snakes, whose confused entanglement will lead to the demise of each by his own venom. Violence is clad in a helmet, clutches a sword, and keeps a burning torch nearby. On this trio’s side of the throne, we see two discarded items – a law book and the scales of justice, representing their disdain for the law.
The left side of the mosaic represents what happens when the rule of law functions well: Industry, Peace, and Truth. Industry is a young man who holds a hammer with a wheel sitting beside him. Peace holds an olive branch and wears a crown of the same, symbolizing peace. Truth, unlike her foil, Fraud, is unashamedly uncovered and holds lilies, which in this scene symbolizes innocence. On their side of the throne, two doves represent peace – the result of a lawful existence. (On a side note, the Law mosaic serves as the cover image on our Facebook page.)
In 1920, a fire destroyed Dielman’s art studio in the Studio Building in New York. He was in another part of the city taking care of a sick friend when the fire began. Another artist whose work is featured in the Library of Congress, William De Leftwich Dodge, also had a studio in the same building and tried to save some of the papers in Dielman’s desk during the fire. Despite Dodge’s and others’ efforts, Dielman lost all of his paintings-in-progress. A “rat gnawing at a match” under the floorboards may have caused the fire.
If Dielman were alive today, perhaps he would find comfort in knowing that the fireplaces above which his Law and History mosaics are installed are no longer functional.