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Visual Order to Organizing Collections

Hunting For Precious Objects

Excavations in the basement of the Louvre reveal the circular fortress of the Tour de la Fauconnerie (Tower of Falconry), where medieval French kings sent birds out tower windows and stored their hunting gear. In 1367, imitating the three floors of manuscripts of the Tour de la Garde-Robe (Tower of the Vestments) of the papal palace in Avignon, King Charles V (r. 1364–1380) moved the royal collection of books to this tower, renaming it the Tour de la Librairie. Christine de Pisan in her 1405 book about wise King Charles V of France notes the orderly arrangement of his library. The reference to "hunting" for manuscripts is most evident in the frescos completed about 1345 on the four walls of the Chambre du Cerf (Room of the Deer) in the Tour de la Garde-Robe, Avignon. The frescos of hunting with birds, hunting with dogs, fowling in trees, and fishing in ponds would help a cleric to locate a handwritten animal-skin manuscript on one of the tables in the room (Horowitz, 1998, pp. 123–128). By ancient rhetorical theory, a trained student is a huntsman finding the locations of hidden knowledge, and from Petrarch onward humanists were praised as manuscript-hunters.

Isabella d'Este (1474–1539), in setting up her second suite of rooms in the ducal palace of Mantua, transformed the scalcheria (the room where meat, vegetables, and other delicacies were previously prepared for banquets) into a room for sorting and arranging her collection of antiquities. With good humor, she commissioned Lorenzo Leonbruno to paint on the upper walls female hunters hunting for deer; seen from below, the Amazons appear to be pointing their arrows down toward the objects in the room. Isabella d'Este—who to acquire desired antiquities wrote both the duke of Milan and Andrea Caesar Travelling Library constructed for Sir Julius Caesar (1558–1636). Throughout the centuries, some collections have been mobile, allowing for their display in multiple locations. BY PERMISSION OF THE BRITISH LIBRARY, C.20.F.15–58 Mantegna on their deathbeds—with Amazonian imagery likened hunting to collecting.

The Boston Public Library in Boston, Massachusetts, opened in 1896, was noted for its large card-catalog room with a decorative frieze of the search for the Holy Grail; the published dissertation on the topic (Ferris Greenslet, The Quest of the Holy Grail, 1902) misses the humor of the implied analogy between the adventures within medieval legends of seeking the cup from which Jesus drank and the often time-consuming, circuitous paths between card-catalog entries and Studiolo of Isabella d'Este, Palazzo Ducale, Mantua, Italy. D'Este's elaborately detailed grotto in Corte Vecchia is one example of a cabinet of curiosity, a type of collection popular in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. PHOTO CREDIT: ALINARI/ART RESOURCE, NY shelves to finding the ideal cup of knowledge (or book) for which one longs.

Additional topics

Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Verbena Family (Verbenaceae) - Tropical Hardwoods In The Verbena Family to WelfarismVisual Order to Organizing Collections - Hunting For Precious Objects, Horticulture And Culture, Cabinets Of Curiosity, "portraits" Of Authors