McGraw Rotunda

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The McGraw Rotunda in the New York Public Library in all of its resplendent glory - attractive and impressive through being richly colorful or sumptuous.

The McGraw Rotunda in the New York Public Library in all of its resplendent glory — attractive and impressive through being richly colorful or sumptuous. The McGraw Rotunda features the story of the recorded word in four large murals by Edward Laning. The entrance to the Edna Barnes Salomon Room 316 is on the right. The large mural to the left of Room 316 is Gutenberg Showing a proof (of the Bible) to the elector of Mainz. The mural on the ceiling depicts Prometheus.

The four murals are:

  • Gutenberg showing a proof (of the Bible) to the Elector of Mainz
  • Moses with the Tablets of Law
  • The Linotype-Mergenthaler and Whitelaw Reid of the New York Tribune
  • A monk of the middle ages copying a manuscript

The Mural on the ceiling depicts Prometheus.

The McGraw Rotunda

The McGraw Rotunda (formerly Central Hall) is a rectangular barrel-vaulted space on the third floor, at the top of the stairs from Astor Hall. Two passageways lead northward and southward from the rotunda. The Public Catalog Room is to the west and the Salomon Room is to the east. The entrances to both rooms are flanked by freestanding marble pedestals. The floors are made of Hauteville and Gray Siena marble. The rotunda's walls contain red marble bases with dark wood piers supporting a plaster or stucco barrel vault. On the north and south ends of the barrel vault are glazed open windows. There are alcoves on the side walls, supported by columns with Corinthian capitals, which were intended to contain murals. The rotunda also includes a booth where visitors can sign up for free guided tours of the Rose Main Reading Room.

The rotunda contains a set of panels painted by Edward Laning in the early 1940s as part of a WPA project. The work includes four large panels, two lunettes above doorways to the Public Catalog and Salomon Rooms, and a ceiling mural painted on the barrel vault. The four panels are located on the east and west walls and depict the development of the written word. The lunette above the Public Catalog Room's doorway is "Learning to Read", and the lunette about the Salomon Room's doorway is "The Student". The ceiling mural is called "Prometheus Bringing Fire to Men". The four panels and two lunettes were completed in 1940, and the ceiling mural was completed in 1942.

Salomon Room

The Edna Barnes Salomon Room, located east of the McGraw Rotunda in Room 316, is usually utilized as an event space. The 4,500-square-foot (420 m2) was originally intended as a picture gallery, and oil paintings still hang on the walls. In 2009, it was converted to a "wireless Internet reading and study room" to provide overflow capacity for internet users who cannot fit in the Main Reading Room.


In Greek mythology, Prometheus (possibly meaning "forethought") is a Titan god of fire. Prometheus is best known for defying the gods by stealing fire from them and giving it to humanity in the form of technology, knowledge, and more generally, civilization. In some versions of the myth he is also credited with the creation of humanity from clay. Prometheus is known for his intelligence and for being a champion of humankind, and is also generally seen as the author of the human arts and sciences. He is sometimes presented as the father of Deucalion, the hero of the flood story.

The punishment of Prometheus as a consequence of the theft of fire and giving it to humans is a popular subject of both ancient and modern culture. Zeus, king of the Olympian gods, sentenced Prometheus to eternal torment for his transgression. Prometheus was bound to a rock, and an eagle—the emblem of Zeus—was sent to eat his liver (in ancient Greece, the liver was thought to be the seat of human emotions). His liver would then grow back overnight, only to be eaten again the next day in an ongoing cycle. According to several major versions of the myth, most notably that of Hesiod, Prometheus was eventually freed by the hero Heracles. In yet more symbolism, the struggle of Prometheus is located by some at Mount Elbrus or at Mount Kazbek, two volcanic promontories in the Caucasus Mountains beyond which for the ancient Greeks lay the realm of the barbarii.

In another myth, Prometheus establishes the form of animal sacrifice practiced in ancient Greek religion. Evidence of a cult to Prometheus himself is not widespread. He was a focus of religious activity mainly at Athens, where he was linked to Athena and Hephaestus, who were the Greek deities of creative skills and technology.

In the Western classical tradition, Prometheus became a figure who represented human striving (particularly the quest for scientific knowledge) and the risk of overreaching or unintended consequences. In particular, he was regarded in the Romantic era as embodying the lone genius whose efforts to improve human existence could also result in tragedy: Mary Shelley, for instance, gave The Modern Prometheus as the subtitle to her novel Frankenstein (1818).

New York Public Library Main Branch

The Stephen A. Schwarzman Building, commonly known as the Main Branch, 42nd Street Library or the New York Public Library, is the flagship building in the New York Public Library system in the Midtown Manhattan neighborhood of New York City. The branch, one of four research libraries in the library system, contains nine separate divisions. The structure contains four stories open to the public. The main entrance steps are at Fifth Avenue at its intersection with East 41st Street. As of 2015, the branch contains an estimated 2.5 million volumes in its stacks. The building was declared a National Historic Landmark, a National Register of Historic Places site, and a New York City designated landmark in the 1960s.

The Main Branch was built after the New York Public Library was formed as a combination of two libraries in the late 1890s. The site, along Fifth Avenue between 40th and 42nd Streets, is located directly east of Bryant Park, on the site of the Croton Reservoir. The architectural firm Carrère and Hastings constructed the structure in the Beaux-Arts style, and the structure opened on May 23, 1911. The marble facade of the building contains ornate detailing, and the Fifth Avenue entrance is flanked by a pair of stone lions that serve as the library's icon. The interior of the building contains the Main Reading Room, a space measuring 78 by 297 feet (24 by 91 m) with a 52-foot-high (16 m) ceiling; a Public Catalog Room; and various reading rooms, offices, and art exhibitions.

The Main Branch became popular after its opening and saw 4 million annual visitors by the 1920s. It formerly contained a circulating library, though the circulating division of the Main Branch moved to the nearby Mid-Manhattan Library in 1970. Additional space for the library's stacks was constructed under adjacent Bryant Park in 1991, and the branch's Main Reading Room was restored in 1998. A major restoration from 2007 to 2011 was underwritten by a $100 million gift from philanthropist Stephen A. Schwarzman, for whom the branch was subsequently renamed. The branch underwent another expansion starting in 2018. The Main Branch has been featured in many television shows and films.

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