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Visual Order to Organizing Collections

Imperial Busts

To collect imperial coins or busts and to organize one's objects in the categories of Suetonius's twelve emperors suggests an appearance of imperial activity. Many Renaissance collections of ancient Roman imperial coins are displayed in room two of the Archaeological Museum, Venice, and busts of the emperors are displayed in the Room of the Emperors in the Palazzo Borghese. A common pastime among Italian humanists and antiquarians was the collection of coins with heads of the twelve Caesars discussed in Suetonius's Lives of the Caesars. Most influential, Petrarch collected such coins of the emperors and utilized both image and inscription to corroborate information. Furthermore, applying such numismatics to challenging church history and policy, Lorenza Valla wrote in 1440 the Declamation Concerning the False Donation of Constantine. Filarete, in discussing the collection in Piero de' Medici's studiolo of the 1450s to 1460s, mentioned intaglios of Caesar, Octavian, Vespasian, Tiberius, Hadrian, Trajan, Domitian, Nero, and Antonius Pius, as well as Faustina, and viewed them as a more accurate record than writing. Humanists learned from Pliny, Natural History 35.2.9–10, that portraits and busts inspired readers in ancient libraries, and some humanists and collectors, such as Piero's brother, Giovanni de' Medici (d. 1463), organized a studiolo by busts of emperors.

The culmination of organizing via busts of emperors is the continuing use of imperial names as the cataloging system of the Cotton collection of the British Library, a collection visually central to the new British Library. Colin C. Tite has argued that in the 1620s the Cotton House displayed busts of the twelve emperors and of Cleopatra and Faustina above the presses containing the books labeled by that imperial name.

Cotton's many coins gave him full examples of Roman images of the emperors. The British Library manuscript room contains the first catalog of Cotton manuscripts arranged in accordance with the emperor system, Additional MS 36682, fols. 14v–15 (approximately 1638). It places the books marked Cleopatra and Faustina after the books marked Julius and Augustus, and then continues the line of emperors; on the other hand, the Thomas Smith Catalogue, 1696 (reprint, 1984) lists the books marked Cleopatra and the books marked Faustina after the books of the twelve emperors. An imagined reconstruction focuses on the noncontroversial location of the presses of the first two emperors Julius and Augustus. Books and objects were arranged by size within the fourteen categories.

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