Visual Order to Organizing Collections
Disciplines Of Knowledge
Classification of books by disciplines occurs in the Chinese, Islamic, and European traditions. Starting in the third century, the imperial library of China classified books into four disciplines: canonical and classical, historical, philosophical, and literary, and there was a corresponding color-coding scheme. Chinese encyclopedism, which began in the fourth century B.C.E., reached a culmination under Emperor Quianlong, whose reign extended from 1736 to 1795. A devotee of arts and letters who personally painted and did calligraphy according to the great masters, Quianlong in 1772 launched a copying project for over ten thousand books and manuscripts. The project—involving 16 directors, 361 scholars, and 4,000 assistants or copyists—resulted in an extensive collection of over ten thousand books and manuscripts. Likewise, Quianlong commissioned the covers of the books in the traditional color scheme: green for classics, red for history, blue for philosophy, gray for literature. The catalog of 10,254 entries follows the four-part scheme; three original copies have survived (Schaer, pp. 350–367).
Piero de' Medici, father of Lorenzo the Magnificent, used color-coding in his catalog of books and in his book bindings in his studiolo in the Medici Palace, Florence. Many of these hand-illuminated works are in good condition in the Biblioteca Laurenziana, Florence. The main room designed by Michelangelo opened in 1571; the subject names still survive on the sides of the lecterns where the books were then chained. Likewise, the Latin words for "Grammar books" and "Medical books" appear on window inscriptions of the library of the cathedral chapter of Bayeux (c. 1464) and correspond in location to that indicated in the catalog of 1480.
In the Escorial Library of Philip II of Spain, designed by Juan de Herrara and constructed 1575–1792, as a great hall 212 feet by 35 feet with a barrel vault 35 feet from the floor, paintings of personifications of the liberal arts rise from above the wall bookcases. These are Philosophy, Grammar, Rhetoric, Dialectics, Arithmetic, Music, Geometry, Astrology, and Theology. The figure of Grammar thus rose above the shelves designated for grammar in the Escorial Library (fig. 31, Masson, 1972 ). While decorating a library with muses or personifications of the liberal arts was not new, lining a rectangular room with wood bookcases was a new innovation, allowing those entering to see and grasp the unity of the open-spaced room and to use the books stacked horizontally on the shelves (Frey Jose de Siguenza, Fundacion del Monasterio de El Escorial, 1595 (reprint, 1963), pp. 279–280). The Ambrosian Library, Milan, 1603–1609, established wall bookcases as the norm for Italy.
Until about 1700, Fearlier in Italy, upper wall and ceiling figures of muses might correlate with the matching books inspired by that muse. The books in lecterns, cases, or shelves would correlate with the appropriate decor of that classification. For example, Garberson has studied a transition library, the Austrian Biblotheca Windhagiana, built 1650–1673, which gave more decorative space to theology to match the extensive collection in that field on the shelves below. Allowing for a unified decor despite continuing purchase of books in varying fields, later libraries allowed the architectural space to designate a balanced distribution of design illustrating the overall purposes of the library. Nevertheless, in the 1764 first printing of Descripcion del Real Monasterio de San Lorenzo del Escorial, Andres Ximenez classified his partial list of four thousand volumes by the muses in Pellegrino Tibaldi's paintings decorating the ceiling and archway of the main floor of the library.
Through the nineteenth century, the muses remained a popular decorative scheme in libraries, as well as in opera houses, where they are often dancing in a circle. Above the entry hall staircase of the Boston Pubic Library, Pierre-Cécile Puvis de Chavannes painted the muse of history viewing ancient ruins, as well as a new iconography for physics, represented by figures of good and bad news holding the telegraph pole.
Extensive collections required division not simply by a section of a room, but by multiple rooms. Avicenna (Ibn Sina), awed by the size of the Islamic library at Bukhara at the end of the tenth century, reported that each room was designated for a particular discipline of knowledge and contained trunks of books: poetry and Arabic philology, jurisprudence, and others. Sorting knowledge into "rooms" is a theme in the Roman Quintillian's (c. 35–c. 100) Art of Rhetoric. In the Institute of Research in History in the Senate House of the University of London, there is virtually a house of history with, for example, rooms for specific national histories in specific centuries. On a smaller scale, in his influential 1885 design for a history seminar room on German precedent at Johns Hopkins University, Herbert Baxter Adams planned the room to house alcoves of histories, of related disciplines such as political science and economics, and of primary sources such as laws and public documents; nearby rooms were designated for ancillary tools such as maps and statistics (Smith, p. 1159, illustration).
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