Artwork in the Rotunda, Oculus, and Dome
Launt Thompson was born in Ireland and moved to Albany, New York with his widowed mother in 1847 as a result of the potato famine. He had always possessed a talent for art and was hired as a studio boy by Erastus Dow Palmer who saw potential in his work. Thompson moved to New York City in 1858. His first work to catch the attention of the public was his marble portrait of James Capon Adams, also known as ‘Grizzly Adams,’ the legendary woodsman.
Thompson was doing so well financially that he took the ‘Grand Tour’ of Europe in 1868. While in Florence, he visited the famous Irish-American sculptor, Hiram Powers, who created the Proserpine bust that is located in the library’s Napoleon Room. Back in New York, he married Marie Potter and they moved to Florence in 1871. Here they lived next to Hiram Powers.
It was during this time that Launt Thompson finished his only nude sculpture entitled “Unconsciousness” or “The Chief’s Bride.” This piece was a labor of love for him since he was not commissioned for the work. Thompson was taken by the story of a young American girl who was kidnapped by Indians. When the girl became an adult, the chief gave her a choice of returning to her family or becoming his bride. She chose to remain with the tribe and the sculpture depicts her touching a turtle, which was the symbol or totem of the tribe.
Thompson moved back to New York in 1881 and the loneliness of leaving his family behind in Florence, as well as the high demand for his work, caused him to overwork and drink to excess. In 1890 he was arrested, then transferred to a private sanitorium, and then moved to the State Homeopathic Asylum for the insane in Middletown, New York, where he died in 1894.
The statue was purchased by Charles Starbuck and presented to Flower Library is 1906. Unfortunately during the train ride from New York City to Watertown, her neck was broken.
Rotunda, Oculus, and Dome
Upon entering the library through the original entrance, the visitor, after passing through the glass and bronze doorway and mosaic vestibule with its welcome ‘Salve’ and farewell ‘Vale’ greetings in bronze on the floor, finds themselves in the rotunda. Created of Vermont marble, the rotunda floors are decorated with bronze signs of the Zodiac that were made by James C. Kindlund.
The focal point of the rotunda is the bust of Roswell P. Flower, which was created by Augustus St. Gaudens. This artist also designed the statue of Governor Flower that stands at the entrance of Washington Street. Originally, a bronze bust of the Governor stood in the rotunda. However, because the bronze bust didn’t keep with or fit the rest of the rotunda’s atmosphere, it was removed and replaced with the marble bust that you see today.
As you stand in the rotunda and look up, you will see the breathtaking stained glass oculus, which is the skylight or ‘eye of the dome.’
Below the oculus is the dome (created by Frederick Lamb) with its mural. The mural features four figures placed at the main axis of the building, and they personify History, Romance, Religion, and Science. There are also intermediate figures of Fable, Drama, Lyric, and Epic Poetry. Each of the figures has the names of two of the most recognized people in the field. The inscription around the dome reads “To know wisdom and instruction: To perceive the words of understanding.” This quote is from the Bible.