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Brought to you by The Developing Librarian team at Columbia University

The Mural

Videbimus Lumen

Videbimus Lumen, mural painted in 1934 by Eugene Francis Savage for the entrace hall of South Hall, later known as Butler Library, Columbia University. Click here for an interactive picture.

Alma Mater

Alma Mater in front of Low Library, Columbia University

Videbimus Lumen, Butler Library Mural - detail

New York architectural details in Videbimus Lumen by Eugene Francis Savage

Eugene Francis Savage painted Videbimus Lumen in 1934 for the opening of the new library on the Columbia University campus - South Hall, later named Butler Library. The central figure is Athena the goddess of wisdom. Compositionally and conceptually, she separates the two worlds of the mural - education versus ignorance. To her left her shield holds back the "spirits of ignorance and greed.[1]" Counter-balanced in the upper left of the mural, are the "four phases of human development, Law, Religion, Art and Science.[2]" Finally, at her feet on the left are those seeking enlightenment or the lumen of the Columbia motto. 

There is another prominent figure of Athena on the Columbia campus directly across the plaza - Alma Mater (see illustration below). Alma Mater was created by Daniel Chester French in 1903 and installed in front of Low Memorial Library in 1904. Savage would have seen this sculpture across the plaza as he painted this mural for the new library on campus. The two Athenas stare at each other across the campus, separated by the bustling activity of College Walk.

The full name of Columbia is Columbia University in the City of New York, a name change that happened in the 20th century after the university moved from mid-town to Morningside Heights.[3] The location of the university and aspects of its geographic history are described in this mural through several pieces of architecture. These structures help orient the viewer to Columbia's place in New York City. Columbia moved to Morningside Heights in 1897 to a site previously occupied by the Bloomingdale Insane Asylum. For most of the 19th century upper Manhattan was not densely populated. Public transportation, the IRT line, did not go as far as Morningside Heights until 1868.

One architectural icon in upper Manhattan was built earlier in 1848, the Aqueduct Bridge or High Bridge as it is known today. It is the arched bridge seen in the mural in the lower right-hand corner near Athena's left knee. The bridge is the oldest in New York and connects the Bronx and Manhattan over the Harlem River. The presence of this architectural landmark situates Columbia squarely in upper Manhattan and historically connects the university to the more rustic aspects of the city's past. 

Behind the High Bridge are several other recognizable pieces of architecture. The large skyscraper looms large in the background and a domed building is off to the right. The skyscraper is the Empire State Building built in 1931. It was only three years old at the time of the mural's creation, but it had already become an icon of New York City. The presence of this building places Columbia solidly in modern New York as the High Bridge indicates the historical New York. Additionally, the Empire State building is a nod towards Columbia's past in midtown, where the university was located before moving uptown.

The domed building is Low Memorial Library. This building was built in 1895 as one of the first building on the Morningside campus. Named in honor of Columbia President Seth Low's father, the library served as the university's main library until there wasn't enough room to house the university's growing book collection in the early 1930s. South Hall, or Butler Library, was built to ensure there was room for collections. Savage is documenting the past library of Columbia in the mural in the new library.




[1] Savage, Eugene Francis. “The South Hall Mural.” South Hall Columbia University, New York. 1935: 21. Buildings and Grounds Collection, box 3, folder 2, University Archives, Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Columbia University in the City of New York.

[2] Ibid, p. 22.

[3] Historical information about Columbia University is from “A Brief History of Columbia.” (n.d) Retrieved on July 10, 2015, from