THE 1895 BOSTON PUBLIC LIBRARY: MONUMENTALITY, COSMOPOLITANISM, AND DEMOCRATIC VALUES IN THE ‘PALACE FOR THE PEOPLE’
Description Art history Art Degree Awarded: M.A. Art. American University Completed in 1895, the Boston Public Library at Copley Square conveys the bold cultural nationalism of the United States at the turn of the century. Created through the collaborative efforts of an impressive roster of leading American architects, artisans and artists, the building’s design and decoration claims a heightened status for American artistic achievement in an era of unprecedented economic, technological and cultural progress. The library’s architects and designers navigated a delicate balance between the needs and wishes of a diverse group of stakeholders—the cultural elite, the institution itself, and a rapidly expanding and increasingly diverse metropolis—fundamentally shaping the concept of the large municipally-funded public library for the rest of the United States. Their choices reveal overlapping and sometimes opposing ideals of the American Renaissance, City Beautiful, and Public Library Movements during this period.Various scholars have already tackled the topic of the Boston Public Library, frequently focusing on its celebrated architecture or individual aspects of its decoration—the murals by Puvis de Chavannes, Edwin Austin Abbey or John Singer Sargent; the sculptural contributions of Frederick MacMonnies, Daniel Chester French or Augustus Saint-Gaudens. Instead, this thesis is organized around broad categorical affinities between some of the most prominent artistic and social undercurrents animating the American Renaissance, City Beautiful, and Public Library Movements at the turn of the century: monumentality, cosmopolitanism, and democratic values.
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