Libraries: Gateway of Knowledge – Libraries, Books, & Bibliophiles in Artwork

Woman Reading by Édouard Manet (1879) Source: Wikimedia Commons

By Gabrielle Passick

“Art is unquestionably one of the purest and highest elements in human happiness. It trains the mind through the eye, and the eye through the mind. As the sun colours lowers, so does art colour life.”
~ John Lubbock

“Art evokes the mystery without which the world would not exist.” ~ René Magritte

2022: A New Beginning
Happy New Year to you and yours. Now that 2022 has arrived, there are a handful of exciting topics I would love to share with you within the Libraries: Gateway of Knowledge Series. Last time, we discussed Art and Relaxation in Libraries. I hope you were able to find some of these resources helpful in your journey of relaxation. To branch off of this topic, we will dive into a world of artwork showing the beauty of libraries and reading. Without further ado, here are the best pieces of art portraying what we love most: libraries.

Der Bücherwurm by Carl Spitzweg (1850)
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Der Bücherwurm, also known as The Bookworm, was created in 1850 by German painter Carl Spitzweg. Spitzweg created his works during the period of German Romanticism. He is regarded as a leading figure of the Biedermeier era. This particular work is an oil painting. Relected in the work is a book lover focused solely on his library without dwelling on any concerns. There is Baroque style detail present in this masterpiece. An interesting fact about this piece was that it was originally titled The Librarian. Additionally, there were two prototypes formed of the same painting. American artist, Norman Rockwell, later paid tribute to Spitzweg’s work in his own interpretation of The Bookworm, which includes using the same title for his work.

Photographic Reproduction of Giuseppe Arcimboldo’s The Librarian Source: Wikimedia Commons Public Domain U.S. {{PD-US}}

Giuseppe Arcimboldo created The Librarian in 1566. Currently located at Skokloster Castle in Sweden, The Librarian is composed of many unique qualities such as books creating the portrait of a man. There is speculation that Wolgang Lazius, Austrian humanist, was the man behind the face. If you compare the two photos, you may notice the similarities of each. What do you think? As the painting lacks any call numbers or similar methods of classification, conclusions can be made that the painting is that of a collector. A painting depicting a librarian would be much more detailed in terms of a specific order or subject area of the books. This painting is rather scattered.

Wolfgang Lazius Source: Wikimedia Commons Public Domain U.S. {{PD-US}}
Photographic reproduction of The Bibliophile by Jean Louis Ernest Meissonier (1862) Source: Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain U.S. {{PD-US}}

Ernest Meissonier was a French painter who lived from 1815-1891. There is not much known about The Bibliophile aside from its creation year of 1862. Meissonier took an interest in military exploits thus creating works surrounding these topics. You can view the painting at the National Gallery of Ireland, where it is currently held.

The Library of Thorvald Boeck by Harriet Backer Source: Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain U.S. {{PD-US}}

Norwegian painter Harriet Backer lived from 1845-1932. She was considered to be the leader of female artists. Created in 1902, The Library of Thorvald Boeck is in the style of Naturalism. You may be wondering who Thorvald Boeck was. He was a book collector, jurist, and the pioneer of the largest Norwegian library collection during his time. Backer painted this work in admiration of Boeck’s immense private library. The painting is located at the National Gallery in Oslo, Norway.

In the Library by Johann Hamza Source: Wiki Gallery Public Domain U.S. {{PD-US}}

Johann Hamza was an Austrian painter who lived from 1850-1927. According to Christie’s, “Johann Hamza is amongst the most gifted 19th Century genre artists who showed a profound fascination with pictures set in the later eighteenth century.” Hamza had a deep appreciation for libraries. To express his love, he created over four works with the same title, In the Library. Hamza studied at the Vienna Academy of Fine Art and was successful in his artistic career.

Photographic Reproduction of Der Vorleser by Johann Hamza
Source: Wikimedia Commons Public Domain U.S. {{PD-US}}

Der Vorleser, or The Reader, is another magnificent work by the 19th century artist, Johann Hamza. Several other artists created works under the title of Der Vorleser. These include works by Giuseppe Carnelli, Carl Friedrich Moritz Müller, and Rudolf Höger. Do you see any similarities?

Der Vorleser by Rudolf Alfred Höger Source: Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain U.S. {{PD-US}}

Jacob Lawrence’s Dream Series #5: The Library Source: Sothebys


Jacob Lawrence was a brilliant American painter from New Jersey. He is known for his influence during the Harlem Renaissance as well as his take on Cubism and Contemporary styles. Lawrence once stated, “My pictures express my life and experiences. I paint the things I know about and the things I have experienced. The things I have experienced extend into my national racial and class group.” Created in 1967, this painting expresses his love for public libraries. The painting represents a busy library with patrons huddled all over the library stacks. The Schomburg Library in Harlem, (now known as the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture), was Jacob Lawrence’s greatest inspiration.

In the Library by John F. Peto Source: Wikimedia Commons

John Frederick Peto was an American painter who lived from 1854-1907. He painted using the Trompe-l’œil technique, which translates from French to ‘deceive the eye.’ His way of painting is similar to that of an optical illusion and tri-dimensional imagery. He created a similar painting titled Take Your Choice.

Photographic Reproduction of Take Your Choice by John Frederick Peto Source: Wikimedia Commons Public Domain U.S. {{PD-US}}

We have come to the end of the list of libraries, books, and bibliophiles in artwork. I hope you have enjoyed reading and viewing all of these paintings. Have you seen 40 Examples of Street Art and Murals About Books, Libraries, and Reading? This site lists the best non-traditional works around the world, portraying the subject of libraries. I highly recommend reading the blog, 20 Beautiful Paintings about Books and Libraries .This site lists numerous other impressive works from around the world. Please stay tuned for more content from my series, Libraries: Gateway of Knowledge. Have you had the opportunity to visit any of the museums from this article? I would love to know your experience in the comments. Thank you!

Libraries: Gateway of Knowledge – Collection:

Art and Relaxation in Libraries
Libraries and Career Preparation
Language in the Library
Music in the Library
Greatest Libraries of the Ancient World
Greatest Librarians of Our History


  1. Woman Reading
  2. The Bookworm
  3. The Bibliophile
  4. The Library of Thorvald Boeck (1902)
  5. Rockwell Tribute to Spitzweg
  6. Fine Art America
  7. Library Murals and More
  8. Biedermeier Art
  9. Timken Museum of Art
  10. Dream Series:The Library
  11. Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture
  12. Baroque Library
  13. Thorvald Boeck
  14. National Museum Oslo
  15. 20 Beautiful Paintings about Books and Libraries
  16. Johann Hamza Biography
  17. Sothebys