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By Laura Libert, Curator, The Masonic Library and Museum of Pennsylvania


Many people admire the opulent decorations of the Masonic Temple, in Philadelphia, not realizing that what they look upon may not have been what the artist had originally intended for them to see. George Herzog, designer and decorator for the majority of the interior of the Temple, was a talented man with vision; however, due to unforeseen constraints, such as time, money, or even the architecture of the room, sometimes his original plans were altered. The Masonic Library and Museum of Pennsylvania is fortunate to possess some of Herzog's original design plans and renderings for several of the areas of the Temple. Those renderings stand as works of art: all have been drawn and painted by hand, and are often gold-leafed.

tot22In April of 1895, Herzog was contracted by the Committee on Temple to decorate the stairways and corridors of the first, second, and third floors of the Masonic Temple. Herzog had demonstrated his skills several years before, designing and decorating Egyptian Hall (1889), Ionic Hall (1890), and Norman Hall (1891). Three of Herzog's designs for the Main Hall on the first floor survive, and provide an interesting glimpse of what might have been. The first rendering presents a view of the southwestern corner of the Main Hall. The color scheme is subdued with tones of ivory, light blues, and greens. The architectural motifs of the Hall receive the majority of decoration, highlighted with geometric and floral designs in gold leaf. In this rendering, it is possible to see the artist's mind at work: over the arch, Herzog sketched in the figure of a reclining person1. Perhaps feeling the room was too plain, or perhaps even too simple for a man of his skill, Herzog proposed a second plan for the Hall.

tot32Starting with a richly painted and coffered ceiling, Herzog then focused on the figures reclining over the arches2. Representing certain eras in history, the figures are in period clothing and are holding items that were used during the times represented. When examined further, it is possible to identify the same figures in the rendering with those that were actually painted in the Hall; they are from the Gothic, Renaissance3, and Romanesque panels. The areas beneath the archways were left empty and blank, perhaps already set aside as space for the portraits of Past Grand Masters.

tot42The final rendering for the Main Hall is of the design proposed for the "Screen across East End of Main Hall, First Floor4." This design is instantly recognizable by anyone who has paid a visit to the Masonic Temple. Upon first glance it appears that little of Herzog's original design was altered. But upon further investigation, the differences become more apparent: Herzog's design was very colorful and he perhaps may have wanted the murals over the archways to be done in fresco secco (painted on a dry plaster surface) in the same manner as much of his other decorative work, not as gilded high-relief as they exist today. The fountain has retained its central position and mosaic tiling, but now consists of a child holding a shell from which the water spouts, and not two intertwined fish as Herzog envisioned5.

   The differences and similarities can be discussed infinitely, and are left to the visitor to contemplate. The next time you visit the Masonic Temple, take a closer look at the beauty that surrounds you, especially that of the often overlooked Main Hall, and wonder what else George Herzog may have had in mind.