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Essay by Eugene Francis Savage

South Hall Mural Essay

Essay on South Hall mural by artist, Eugene Francis Savage

This essay by artist Eugene Francis Savage is from a compilation of essays written in 1935 about South Hall (Butler Library) a year after the library was completed. The essay is written entirely about Videbimus Lumen. Savage explains the content and compositional choices he made in creating the mural that is located in the front entrance to the building. Savage named the mural Videbimus Lumen after Columbia's motto In Lumine Tuo Videbimus Lumen (In Thy light shall we see light)[1]. Light is the defining metaphor for the mural and is also a strong compositional element. In Savage's words the university's function is "to inform, to impart traditions of thought and prepare youth for independent thinking and thus coordinate the past and present with the future.[2]"

In the last paragraph of the essay, Savage cites the influence of classical renaissance style and also states "the space was not the occasion to follow that section of critical persuasion that calls for subversive subject matter done with the modernistic experiments in the manner of the prevailing fad of the month; it would desecrate the premises.[3]" While Savage may not have painted in a modern style, it could be argued that elements of Videbimus Lumen are subversive or political in subject matter. The mural contains the symbols of the hammer and the sickle, the fasces, and the olive tree. In this essay, Savage states "It seems to be the recent almost universal lapse from peace and its resultant ideological and economic demoralization that is now successfully challenging all previously well-ordered thinking and traditional philosophical conclusions. Such is the thought on the subject manner.[4]" The hammer and sickle in the lower left corner held by the agrarian figure would have been a well known symbol of communism in 1934. The fasces would have also been known as the symbol of fascism under Mussolini. 

The year the mural was painted, 1934, was when Hitler became the official head of state in Germany following the death of the German president Paul von Hindenburg. Mussolini had already been in power for over a decade by this time. The presence of the olive tree dominating the background of this mural suggests that underlying all the symbolism about enlightenment and the universal ideals of higher education, Savage was also making a comment about the political situation in Europe expressing a desire for peace. 


[1] Savage, Eugene Francis. “The South Hall Mural.” South Hall Columbia University, New York. 1935. 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. 21.

[3] Ibid, p. 23.

[4] Ibid, p. 23.

Essay by Eugene Francis Savage