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Visual Order to Organizing Collections

Horticulture And Culture

Thirteenth-century Richard de Fournival discusses his "garden" of manuscripts in La biblionomia. This catalog shows the rows of his plantings: about three hundred manuscripts entered the founding collection of the Sorbonne of which forty of Fournival's have survived. The duke of Berry, most famous for his manuscript of the calendar months, utilized the insignia of vegetative "roots" to designate his manuscripts. Piero de' Medici, father of Lorenzo the Magnificent, created a studiolo (a study) in the Medici Palace, Via Larga, Florence. The twelve calendar months by Luca della Robbia on the ceiling are a visual cataloging system pointing out the twelve categories of Piero's classical and Christian books below, color-coded in the written catalogs of 1456 and 1464–1465 (Horowitz, 2003).

Isabella d'Este's second suite of schaleria, studiolo, grotto, and garden created an atmosphere of a garden of virtues, as in the Mantegna painting Pallas Expelling the Vices from the Garden of Virtue (1499–1502) which hung in the studiolo (now in the Louvre). Hovering in a cloud on the right are the three cardinal virtues; below in the distance, a pleasant landscape seen through the tree-lined archways reveals vices fleeing and new growth growing from old roots; in the foreground on the left is the Mother of Virtue imprisoned in a tree; and in the center, vices pollute the pond. Minerva (Pallas Athene) and two goddesses enter and seek to bring about a return to a garden of virtue.

The analogy of "culture" and horti"culture" is evident in many languages. The tree catalog of the library of Saint-Lambrecht, a painted panel by Michel Boeckyn (1688–1742), utilizes the common image of a tree of knowledge, with the various branches of knowledge rising from a trunk (fig. 4, Masson, 1981). One might plant a collection of books or other valuables, many might labor in the fields of scholarship and the arts, and a society devoted to cultivating the arts might create an abundant culture. French King Francis I (r. 1515–1547) was praised by his courtiers for his cultivation of the humanist virtues, which are equally evident in his manuscript collection, in the flowery ephemeral art of his royal entries, and in the flowers and fruit ornamenting the wall paintings in the Galerie Francis I, Fontainebleau. The analogy of writing to agricultural productivity, like the analogy of collecting to hunting, also helped make these cultural activities appropriately aristocratic.

Agricultural abundance ornamenting cultural institutions was so prevalent in the eighteenth century that it barely receives comment; note especially the decoration of the rotunda library of the Radcliffe Camera, Oxford, and of the stucco ceiling at the entrance to the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford. In the mid-nineteenth century, the upper walls of the main reading room of the Bibliothèque nationale were painted with illusionistic windows revealing sky and treetops. The implication that natural vegetative growth encourages the growth of the mind was expressed in the medieval tradition of drawings of a scholar in a study with an open cupboard showing fruit. (John Clark, in The Care of Books [1901], asks why the fruit are there [p. 313].)

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