Mural by Blashfield in Main Reading Room

On the canopy mural over the eye of the Main Reading Room's soaring, domed ceiling is a female figure called Human Understanding, who is enveloped in clouds, flanked by cherubs, and lifting a veil from her head. Twelve winged figures on the collar below represent major civilizations and epochs in chronological order: Egypt and the early written record, Judea, Greece, Rome, Islam, the Middle Ages, Italy representing the Fine Arts, Germany with the art of printing, Spain, England, France, and finally America as Science, represented by an engineer. The murals were painted in place by Edwin H. Blashfield (1848-1936) for the opening of the building in 1897. Blashfield had trained in Paris and traveled widely in Europe and was a leader in the American Renaissance movement that promoted edifying murals and decoration in public buildings.