In selecting a subject for the Treasure Room Mural Decorations the fact that many rare and beautiful books were to be kept there suggested the theme, "The Romance of the Written Word."
MURALS FOR TREASURE ROOM[Edward L. Doheny Jr. Memorial Library]
By Samuel Armstrong
It has been said that the craft of printing is the medium which turned the darkness of the middle ages into light, and which secured to posterity the intellectual achievements of the past.
As an introduction to the theme, a lunette over the entrance to the Treasure Room portrays an Egyptian Scribe passing on the Torch of Wisdom to Modern Man. An open book in the center of the composition bears the inscription in Latin: "In the beginning was the Word." Against the gold background of the Pyramids and Modern Skyscrapers, the legend "The Written Word Passeth on the Torch of Wisdom" gives emphasis to the theme.
The first panel, placed at the southeastern corner of the room, depicts the primitive man cutting a pictograph on the rock of his cave. This pictograph is an exact replica of "La Greze Bison", found in a small grotto near Les Eyzies in the Dordogne district of Western France. This primitive work is of the Aurignacian Period or later Palaeolithic age, and is supposed to be 15,000 years old-- the oldest pictograph in the world.
On the same panel will be found "Cuneiform writing circa 3500 B.C." The earliest known cuneiform writing, which was then pictographic, dates from about 3500 B.C.
Hieratic Writing and Invention of Papyrus-- dated about 2800 B.C.-- are also represented.
The next panel of the Antiquity groups shows the Phoenician development of the alphabet, the original alphabet of twenty-two consonants appearing on the background of the composition which portrays the Phoenicians working on their commercial accounts.
The next group represents the use of the Codex, a book of three leaves, which were wax surfaced, and on which they wrote with the stylus. The use of the read pen, or Calamus, is also depicted.
The large panel at the end of the room comprises the Oriental Group. "The Genesis of Printing." At the left of the composition is shown "The invention of Paper" by Ts'ai Lun in China about 105 A.D. The invention of paper was one of the most important events in the evolution of the written word.
The center group is the "Introduction to Printing." The earliest extant block prints are those made in Japan circa 770 A.D. for the Empress Shotoku who, through her zeal for Buddhism, ordered the printing of a million charms (to insure length of days) to be placed in a million tiny pagodas. These charms were printed in Sanskrit from wooden blocks upon paper. The late Thomas Francis Carter, Ph.D., of Columbia University, whose research work is the authority for this panel, says that the Empress thus introduced printing to the world, and adds, "It is typical of the International character which printing has always possessed that this first printing project was in an Indian language in Chinese Characters and carried out in Japan."
Next comes the figure of Wang Chieh who printed the "Diamond Sutra", the world's "First Printed Book" embodying a section of the Buddhist Scriptures. This was printed in 868 A.D. It was printed on paper from woodblocks and consists of six sheets of texts and one shorter sheet with a woodcut illustration, all neatly pasted together to form one continuous roll one foot wide by sixteen feet long.
The "Invention of movable type", is represented by the figure of Pi Shong showing porcelain type embedded in resinous wax. He developed the idea in 1041 A.D.
At the beginning of the European Group is the "Unification of Script." Charlemagne 800 A.D., portraying Monks at work in a Scriptorium, hand lettering their beautiful books under the direction of Alcium of York and with Emperor Charlemagne examining the new script.
The panel over the door, "European Invention of Typography", shows the workshop of Gutenberg and the many phases of his invention which was given to the world in 1450 A.D.
"First Printing in England" shows Caxton at work in the Almonry at Westminster Abbey on an "Indulgence" dated 1476.
"Aldus, Preserver of Greek Classics-1488", carrying out his dream of multiplying the Greek classics through the new invention of printing.
The first panel portrays the salient points in the development of American printing stating with the first printing of Stephen Daye in 1639, then the printing of the first magazine by Franklin in 1729, the Invention of the Typewriter by Charles Thurber of Worcester, Mass., and the Invention of the Linotype by Ottmar Mergenthaler in 1886. This panel typifies the various developments of the printing art in America.
The manner in which the mural decorations have been painted has been carefully planned for its stylization and decorative character. Natural in form, the figures are nevertheless stylized, and the pattern of color very definite in its design and arrangement. Research work for the costumes involved extensive study before the work could be undertaken and much time was given to selections of models when the drawing was begun on the large canvases, may races and types being needed for this work.
The color scheme is green-blue and gold, rose-violet and orange-red, with incidental notes of copper, ivory-white, and yellow-green.
Text from an unpublished manuscript edited by Mrs. Roger Hayward, on the occasion of the opening of the Edward L. Doheny Jr. Memorial Library, USC, 1932.