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The State Library of Victoria invites you to celebrate the centenary of its iconic dome
Since 1913 the Library's domed reading room has been the symbolic heart of our great institution. Celebrate the scholarship, creativity and learning this architectural icon has inspired for generations of Victorians. Learn more
This free exhibition is open daily10am–5pm and until 9pm Thursdays in the Keith Murdoch Gallery until 2 February 2014.
Discover the cultural centrepiece of 19th-century Melbourne and the grand vision that inspired it in Free, secular and democratic: building the Public Library 1853–1913. This free exhibition traces the first 60 years of the Melbourne Public Library (as the State Library of Victoria was first known), from its founding in 1853 to the opening of the magnificent domed reading room in 1913.
The Library and the cultural institutions that shared its site – the museum, gallery and art schools – were known collectively as 'the Institution' and were established and nurtured by a group of colonial liberals including judge Sir Redmond Barry and architect Joseph Reed. They aimed to create a civic centre that was secular, democratic and enlightened, giving people free access to self-improvement through learning. Their dream was a new society in which everyone could participate. As another liberal, politician and journalist Charles Pearson, stated, ‘an educated community is on the whole more moral, more law-abiding, and more capable of work’.
Free, secular and democratic tells the inspiring story of this grand vision for Melbourne, and reflects on its legacy today in our city’s continuing cultural growth. It examines the building’s architecture, including the classically inspired Queen’s Hall with its interior by pre-Raphaelite designer Edward La Trobe Bateman, and the great domed reading room which completed the vision in 1913. It also reveals how the Library’s collection was developed, and who used it – from members of the general reading public to well-known contributors like writer Marcus Clarke.
The exhibition revisits the Intercolonial Exhibition of 1866–67, held on the Library site in the newly built Great Hall (where the dome now stands). This major event, part of a global program of great exhibitions, allowed Victoria to participate in a worldwide network of knowledge creation and scholarship and to showcase colonial advances in science, industry and the arts.
The exhibition also celebrates the stories of the institutions that shared the Library’s site between 1854 and 1913. The Industrial and Technological Museum and Natural History Museum fulfilled the twofold purpose of the 19th-century museum: public education and scientific research. Free, secular and democratic will include former museum exhibits such as John Gould’s taxidermied hummingbirds and a Victorian timber sample decorated by artist May Vale. The exhibition will also trace the early days of what became the National Gallery of Victoria, with its first collections inspired by London’s Victoria and Albert Museum, as well as the Schools of Art and Design, where Bernard Hall and Frederick McCubbin were key figures.
Free, secular and democratic is presented in seven themed sections:
• The architectural frame
• Queen’s Hall
• Building the Library’s collection
• The Intercolonial Exhibition, 1866–67
• The museums
• The art gallery and art schools
• The domed reading room: completing the vision
The exhibition features original architectural drawings, manuscripts, pictures and objects from the State Library’s collection as well as significant items on loan from other institutions, including the Public Record Office Victoria, National Gallery of Victoria, Museum Victoria, The University of Melbourne Archives, RMIT University and Bates Smart.
Free, secular and democratic is curated by Harriet Edquist, Professor of Architectural History at RMIT and Director of RMIT Design Archives.
View our Free, secular and democratic image gallery to see highlights from the exhibition. These include the display case of hummingbirds featuring 203 species, Nicholas Chevalier’s splendid vision of the Library and extraordinary photos of the construction of the iconic dome.