Visual Order to Organizing Collections
Some of the earliest rooms of collection of Chinese Buddhist art are in Toshodaiji near Nara, Japan. In the Kondo (main hall) at Toshodaiji, 759 C.E., one sees an arrangement reminiscent of an emperor with courtiers in the rendition of a large seated Buddha with Bodhisattvas on either side. The entire complex of buildings at Toshodaiji is symmetrical, the great Buddha hall as the center with twin pagodas on either side. Museum goers may thus study ancient Chinese culture within Japanese temples.
During the Italian Renaissance, Venice was a good location for studying ancient Greek culture. La Libreria Sansoviniana in the Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana is on the second floor of a columned building across from the ducal palace and basilica of Venice. Built by architect Jacopo Sansovino in 1591, it is especially famous for its ceiling painting by Titian of Wisdom. Nicola Ivanoff has elaborated on the Neoplatonic iconography of the ceiling and wall decoration of the room containing the rare manuscripts. The scheme involves personifications for virtues and for the disciplines (Ricciardi, pp. 33–44 with illustrations). Slanted desks housed the valuable possessions of Greek manuscripts collected by Cardinal Bessarion and donated to the city of Venice in 1468.
Considering this special room in the context of the path to it, one finds large caryatids by Alessandro Vittoria (1553–1555) guarding the original entrance, which leads up a winding vaulted staircase to a vestibule heavily decorated with classical sculpture donated in 1587 by the cardinal and patriarch of Aquileia, Giovanni Grimani.
In ancient Greek temple sites, as in Athens, one walked up a holy path to the hilltop temple and then stood outside the temple housing the statue of the god or goddess. To reach the collection of Greek manuscripts, one walks up a holy way and stands in a vestibule of ancient sculpture. The holy of holies in La Libreria Sansoviniana is not the effigies of gods but the Greek manuscripts.
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