A contemporary visitor to the Morgan Library, entering now through a discrete service entrance, will not likely feel the full intended effect of a visit to the Library and Study of John Piermont Morgan. The library housed not only an astounding collection of manuscripts and antiquities, but also the personal office of the famed financier. As such, it was built to impress Morgan’s personal greatness upon visitors (a tacit but obvious goal) just as it was to honor his collection of treasures stored within.
The building is a supreme example of the personal influence that architecture and design can hold over inhabitants – a tradition developed through the evolution of every great royal seat in Europe, and a design language featuring symmetry, procession, alignments, and the obvious (if not ostentatious) display of wealth through scale, artistry, and precious materials. This compact palace is unequivocal about Morgan’s power but, unusually, the owner’s potency is described by peaceful and intimate display, rather than the aggressive, militaristic, sequences of grand halls, that best describe palace architecture (and the homes of most of Morgan’s Gilded Age contemporaries). No, this jewel box is a monument to wisdom – an intimate but dumbfoundingly impressive testament to the owner’s prestige, honoring knowledge above all.
Mr. Morgan’s Library, as it was called, is more the abode of a benevolent king than his Wall Street baron peers. Visitors were invited to feel an awe inspired by comfort rather than trepidation: simultaneously experiencing intimacy, and their own personal smallness, as they approach this titan and scholar prince. Whereas most palatial halls display unattainable and static symbols of power, the towering halls of this library are warm and welcoming. Perhaps its something about the books themselves that fuel this: the dual connotation of wealth in owning such an astounding collection of leather bound tomes, and the implication that the information stored within each volume is still essentially accessible to all.