Sargent Gallery, Boston Public Library (2)

A view of the murals in the Sargent Gallery on the third floor of the Boston Public Library’s McKim Building, around 1916-1919. Image courtesy of the Boston Public Library.

The scene in 2021:

These two photos show the view in the Sargent Gallery facing in the opposite direction from the previous post. The photos in that post show the original portion of John Singer Sargent’s mural Triumph of Religion, which was installed here in 1896. The rest of the panels were added over the next few decades, between 1903 and 1919.

Unlike the panels from 1896, which featured images related to the Old Testament and other religions of the ancient Near East, most of the subsequent panels focused on the New Testament. On the far side of the room, in the distant center of this scene, are two panels that were installed in 1903. The lunette panel depicts the Trinity, and it also has a crucifix with Adam on one side of it and Eve on the other. Beneath this panel is a rectangular one depicting eight angels.

The next installation occurred in 1916, shortly before the first photo was taken. This included the panel on the ceiling in the distance, titled Fifteen Mysteries of the Rosary, and two smaller panels beneath it on the walls: Handmaid of the Lord on the left, and Madonna of Sorrows on the right. The 1916 installation also included six lunette panels at the tops of the walls, with three on each side. On the left side is Fall of Gog and Magog, which is mostly out of view in these photos, followed by Israel and the Law in the center and Messianic Era in the distance. On the right side, starting in the foreground, is Hell, Judgment, and The Passing of Souls into Heaven.

The first photo was taken after the 1916 installation but prior to 1919, when Sargent added two more photos. One of these, just out of view on the far left in the 2021 photo, is Synagogue, and further in the distance on the left is Church. However, Sargent never finished the entire mural project. His intent had been to paint one final panel, depicting the Sermon on the Mount. It would have gone above the stairs, on the left side of the scene, but he died in 1925 before it was completed. The intended space here in the gallery has remained empty ever since, as seen on the left side of the 2021 photo.

Today, aside from the panels that were added in 1919, the only noticeable changes from the first photo are the floor lamps on the left and the railings on the steps to the right. Sargent’s mural underwent a major restoration from 2003 to 2004, and the gallery remains one of the most distinctive features of the McKim Building, which is renowned for both its architecture and its artwork

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