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Visual Order to Organizing Collections

Awe-inspiring Temples

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 New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art. Some institutions that house artistic collections feature large-scale, impressive architectural components which reflect the importance of that which is housed within. © BOB KRIST/CORBIS 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.

Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris, France. France's new national library is a complex consisting of a garden surrounding four towers—shaped like open books—that house the institution's collections. AP/WIDE WORLD PHOTOS

The Shrine of the Book. Part of the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, the Shrine of the Book contains the Dead Sea Scrolls. © DAVID RUBINGER/CORBIS

The Shrine of the Book in Jerusalem enlarges the lid of an ancient clay jar in which the Dead Sea Scrolls were found in 1947 into a monumental white dome museum housing the seven ancient scrolls in Hebrew and Aramaic. Designed by Frederick J. Kiesler and Armand P. Bartos, the white dome juxtaposes with a black wall, representing the struggle of light and darkness, good and evil, in the ancient biblical texts enclosed within.

Monumental staircases, grandiose like ancient Egyptian or Aztec step pyramids, became the pathway to grandiose collections, such as the Louvre, the Widener Library, the Columbia University Library, and the Metropolitan Art Museum. The winged victory goddess, which has become the insignia of Niketown, marks the turn in the grand internal staircase of the Louvre, Paris; the Chicago Art Institute imitated the design. At the end of the twentieth century, a glass pyramid entrance downward displaced the grand staircase as the main entryway to the Louvre. The crowds of diverse population line the outdoor staircase to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

King's Library at the British Library. Many institutions store collections in tower form, such as the British Library, which houses certain of its books—including those of King George III—in six-story bookcases. © IRENE RHODEN; REPRODUCED BY PERMISSION OF THE BRITISH LIBRARY

VISUAL CUES TO A COLLECTION

This British Library miniature library for the traveler is related to three others extant. It has clear visual cues to its collection. Books of theology and philosophy are on the top shelf and listed in the left column, books of history are on the middle shelf and listed in the middle column, and books of poetry are on the bottom shelf and listed on the right column. The theology and philosophy books have a floral ornament on the spine and originally had blue ties, the history books have a flaming heart on the spine and red ties, and the poetry books have either a six-pointed star or a rosette on the spine and have green ties. While the history and poetry texts are primarily from ancient Greece and Rome, theology includes Old and New Testament and Christian texts, and philosophy emphasizes Stoic philosophers to Justus Lipsius.

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