Boston’s Doors: The BPL’s Bronze Portals

Boston has many historical, beautiful, interesting and even quirky doors. They open onto amazing places, some public and some private. While interior spaces tend to get all the attention, doors can be pretty fascinating all by themselves. Take the Salada Tea Doors, for example. I wrote about them in 201x as part of my series on Boston’s Hidden Gems and they are among the best of Boston’s doors.

BPL, Boston Public LIbrary, Daniel Chester French, bronze doors, allegory

Vestibule of the BPL’s Central Library

Entering the Boston Public Library

Today I’m going to focus on six bronze doors that lead from the vestibule of the Boston Public Library’s Central Library to its spectacular lobby and grand staircase.

The three sets of tall doors, were designed by Daniel Chester French, the sculptor who created the Angel of the Waters in the Boston Public Garden and five memorials in Forest Hills Cemetery. He sculpted these doors about 25 years before he created the statue of Abraham Lincoln in Washington DC’s Lincoln Memorial.

Three Pairs of Doors

Daniel Chester French, Truth, Romance, bronze doors, Boston Public Library, BPL

The allegories of Truth and Romance

Each of the BPL’s doors weighs 1500 pounds but you don’t actually have to open them. They stand open during library hours–which makes it easy to walk right past without really looking at them. If the left and right pairs are closed, the central doors of Knowledge and Wisdom are always open.

Each door bears the low-relief image of an allegorical figure holding her attributes along with a quote. The pairs are:

Left (1902)

  • Music
    “SVCG Sweet Compulsion Does in Music Lie To Lull the Daughters of Necessity and Keep Unsteady Nature to Her Law” – John Milton
  • Poetry
    “True Poetry is Like the Lodestone Which Both Attracts the Needle and Supplies it With Magnetic Power”

Center (1898)

  • Knowledge
    “There is in Wisdom a spirit subtil, clear in utterance, loving what is good, pure, stedfast.” (Proverbs 23:3)
  • Wisdom
    By Knowledge Shall, the Chambers Be Filled with all Precious and pleasant riches.” —
    (Proverbs 24:3)

Right (1897)

  • Truth
    Truth is The Strength and The Kingdom and The Power and the Majesty of all Ages. A Romance to Rede and Drive the Night”
  • Romance
    Away from me thought it Better Play than Either at Chesse or Tables”

The People’s Palace

The Boston Public Library was designed to be “the people’s palace” and the doors are just one of the many artistic and visual treasures to be found inside. You can see them just by walking in during library hours but the best way to appreciate the BPL’s works of art is by taking one of their art and architecture guided tours.

maquesttes, Wisdom, Knowledge, bronze doors, Daniel Chester French, Chesterwood

Maquettes for the allegories of Wisdom and Knowledge

These tours cover both the original structure—the McKim Building—and the 20th century addition designed by Phillip Johnson. Along the way, you will see murals by Edwin Austin Abbey, Pierre Puvis de Chavanne and John Singer Sargent, and sculpture by Frederic MacMonnies and Augustus and Louis St. Gaudens.

To find the maquettes, or models, that Mr. French made for the doors you have to drive out to the Berkshires and visit Chesterwood, Daniel Chester French’s summer home and studio in Stockbridge, Massachusetts. The sculptor spent 34 summers working at Chesterwood. The house is beautiful with a wonderful view from the porch. But the studio holds examples of Mr. French’s work in full size and in miniature. The studio has a very high ceiling to accommodate his work on large pieces such as equestrian statues and the BPL’s bronze portals. It is well worth the visit to get a closer look at how he approached his creations.

The Boston Public Library
700 Boylston Street
Boston MA 02116

Other Treasures in Copley Square

The courtyard at the Boston Public Library is free. A series of open-air concerts is given there in June, July and August, offering a variety of music from jazz and folk to classical and contemporary. In addition, the BPL runs the Courtyard Restaurant serving lunch and afternoon tea.

Courtyard of the Boston Public Library

The Boston Public Library stands on the west side of Copley Square. When you go, you can take in other places that I have written about that are nearby–two of them in the BPL.  Here’s a list:

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