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"Man and Science" lunette, from the mural series "The Building of the House of Wisdom," Charlton Yarnall House

Oil on canvas
Credit Line
Gift of the Southeast Pennsylvania Chapter of the American Red Cross, 1963
84 x 165 in.

Description & Inscriptions

Impressed by a series of murals Oakley had completed in the Pennsylvania State Capitol, banker Charlton Yarnall commissioned Oakley to create a series of murals for the entrance hall and music room of his new neo-renaissance mansion at 17th and Locusts Streets in Philadelphia. The murals, collectively titled Building the House of Wisdom (1911), are considered to be among Oakley’s greatest achievements.

Situated opposite Child and Tradition, Man and Science is the third of three large lunettes. Several generations of a family gather on a rooftop in Florence, Italy, the birthplace of the Renaissance and the city that nurtured the modern arts and sciences.

On the left, a young man stands with his arm around a boy, perhaps his son. On the right, a little girl about the age of Charlton Yarnall’s young daughter, Anna Sophia, leans her elbows on the stone balustrade and enjoys the panoramic view of the city. Three women hover over the seated older woman dressed in black. (Oakley’s widowed mother Cornelia Swain Oakley posed for this figure.) From this vantage point, the family of Man looks up to the octagonals overhead and can see the scientific inventions of light, communication, and the “aeroplane,” the realization of Leonardo da Vinci’s 1488 vision of a flying machine.

The inscription is from Psalm 8:4: “What is man? Thou art mindful of him. Thou hast crowned him with glory and honor. Thou hast put all things under his feet.”


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