Family weekend at Vassar: come visit the library!

Are you expecting guests this weekend?  Why not show them one of the most beautiful and often-photographed buildings on campus – the Main (Thompson) Library?

A quick history…

Thompson Memorial LIbrary Front Exterior

The Thompson Memorial Library

When Vassar opened in 1865, the library was only one room in Main Building, and housed approximately 3,000 books.  By 1893, the growing library needed more space, and Vassar trustee Frederick Ferris Thompson and wife Mary Clark Thompson filled that role.  The Thompson Memorial Library was completed in 1905 and additions to the north connected Thompson to Taylor Hall and formed the Van Ingen Art Library in 1937.  Today, encompassing more than 150,000 square feet and over one million volumes, the Libraries include Thompson, Archives & Special Collections Library, the Art Library, and the George Sherman Dickinson Music Library.  See:

Architectural features

Seals and Shields

The library’s architectural style is perpendicular Gothic, featuring three wings built about a central tower.   Flanking the entrance is a stone frieze of college and university seals — Cambridge, Oxford, Bryn Mawr, and Smith – and to the right are the “Veritas” of Harvard and the “Lux et Veritas” of Yale.  Once inside, five beautiful seventeenth-century Flemish Gobelin tapestries, portraying Apuleius’ romance of Cupid and Psyche, hang in the central hall.

Cornaro Stained Glass Window

The Cornaro Window

The Cornaro Window

Once inside, be sure to see the Cornaro Window and its depiction of Lady Elena Lucretia Cornaro-Piscopia (1646-1684), the first woman to receive a doctorate degree.  The window illustrates the conferring of her doctorate by the University of Padua.  As noted in the history of the Cornaro window: “The public ceremony was held in the Cathedral of Padua in the presence of the University authorities, the professors of all the faculties, the students, and most of the Venetian Senators, together with many invited guests from the Universities of Bologna, Ferrara, Perugia, Rome, and Naples. The Lady Elena spoke for an hour in classic Latin, explaining difficult passages selected at random from the works of Aristotle. She was listened to with great attention, and when she had finished, she received plaudits as Professor Rinaldini proceeded to award her with the insignia of the Doctorate, placing the wreath of laurel on her head, the ring on her finger, and over her shoulders the ermine mozetta. This is the scene illustrated in the Vassar College Library window.”

Printers’ Marks

Printers mark detail from southeast window

A printers’ mark detail from the southeast windows

There are more than 60 printers’ marks throughout the Thompson Library that represent those used by printers throughout Europe – including England, Alsace-Lorraine, Germany, France, Switzerland, Spain, and Scotland – during the 15th and 16th centuries, an extraordinary time for printing and book-making in general.  Though the marks have moved locations due to renovation and expansion, the volume Printers’ Marks in the Windows of the Thompson Memorial Library Building provides a nice overview of the marks themselves and the printers associated with them.

We hope you enjoy your weekend and your visit to the library!

Handy links:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.