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Visual Order to Organizing Collections

Towers Of Knowledge

In the basement of the Louvre, one can still observe the walls of the tower wherein King Charles V set his library. An M. C. British Museum reading room. Nineteenth-century engraving. Constructed in the domed style of ancient Roman architecture, the reading room at the British Museum served as the main reading room for the British Library until 1997. © BETTMANN/CORBIS Escher–influenced medieval tower is featured in the scene of manuscripts burning in the film The Name of the Rose; therein one sees Richard de Fournival portrayed rescuing manuscripts that will later enter into the library of the Sorbonne. In the upper story tower study of Château de Montaigne, Michel de Montaigne in the 1570s, 1580s, and early 1590s utilized the book collections of his father and of his friend Étienne de La Boétie to nourish his own thoughts on numerous important social concerns of his day in his Essais. Imagining his mind as an infertile field and as a galloping horse, he recommends as a remedy proper sowing and careful reining (Essais 1.8 on idleness, "De l'oiseveté"). With self-discipline, he inscribed on the beams of his ceiling his favorite literary and philosophical sayings. After his death in 1592, Marie de Gournay worked in the book-lined tower study to prepare the 1595 posthumous edition of his essays and to track down the original sources of Montaigne's Greek and Latin classical quotes.

The newest Bibliothèque nationale, at François-Mitterrand/Tolbiac in Paris, rises in four towers of books from the rectangular garden of trees. The Tower of Time, the Tower of Letters, the Tower of Numbers, and the Tower of Law appear to grow from the arboretum. The "Haut-de Jardin," the upper garden, serves to cultivate the general public while the "Rez-de-Jardin" encourages the deeper cultivation of the research scholar.

While the new library in Paris stores the books in towers, the new British Library in the St. Pancras Building, opened by the queen in June 1998, stores the books underground. Both great national and international collections utilize the latest technology for online reader requests as well as automated, mechanical means for book retrieval. Nevertheless, the British especially value the books extant from John Cotton's Library as well as the rest of King George III's books, which King George IV gave to the nation in 1823. These books rise in a six-story bronze and glass tower in the center of the new British Library.


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Cheles, Luciano. The Studiolo of Urbino: An Iconographic Investigation. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1986.

Clark, John. The Care of Books: An Essay on the Development of Libraries and Their Fittings, from the Earliest Times to the End of the Eighteenth Century. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1901.

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Garberson, Eric. "Biblotheca Windhagiana: A Seventeenth-Century Austrian Library and Its Decoration." Journal of the History of Collections 5, no. 2 (1993): 109–128.

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Hudson, Kenneth. Museums of Influence. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1987.

Impey, Oliver, and Arthur MacGregor, eds. The Origins of Museums: The Cabinet of Curiosities in Sixteenth-and Seventeenth-Century Europe. Oxford: Clarendon, 1985.

Kobayashi, Takeshi. Nara Buddhist Art: Todai-ji. Translated and adapted by Richard L. Gage. New York: Weatherhill, 1975.

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——. The Pictorial Catalogue: Mural Decoration in Libraries. Translated by David Gerard. Oxford: Clarendon, 1981.

Pomian, Krzysztof. Collectors and Curiosities: Paris and Venice, 1500–1800. Translated by Elizabeth Wiles-Portier. Cambridge, U.K.: Polity, 1990.

Raggio, Olga. "The Liberal Arts Studiolo from the Ducal Palace at Gubbio." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 53 (spring 1996).

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Rogers, David. The Bodleian Library and Its Treasures, 1320–1720. Henley-on-Thames, U.K.: Aidan Ellis, 1991.

Schaer, Roland. Tous les saviors du monde: Encyclopédies et bibliothèques, de Sumer au XXIe siècle. Paris: Bibliothèque nationale/Flammarion, 1996.

Signorelli, Luigi. The Palazzo Vecchio and the Piazza della Signoria: Handbook and Itinerary. Translated by Hilda M. R. Cox. Florence, Italy: Arnaud, 1952.

Smith, Bonnie G. "Gender and the Practices of Scientific History." American Historical Review 100 (1995): 1150–1176.

Staikos, Konstantinos Sp. The Great Libraries from Antiquity to the Renaissance. London: Oak Knoll Press and the British Library, 2000.

Stam, David H., ed. International Dictionary of Library Histories. 2 vols. Chicago: Dearborn, 2001. See especially Edwin Wolff II, "Library Buildings," and Mohamed Taher, "Islamic Libraries."

Tite, Colin G. C. The Manuscript Library of Sir Robert Cotton. London: The British Library, 1994.

Ventura, Leandro, Daniela Ferrari et al. Isabella d'Este: I luoghi del collezionismo: Mantova, Palazzo ducale, appartamenti isabelliani. Modena: Bulino, 1995.

Verheyen, Egon. The Paintings in the Studiolo of Isabella d'Este at Mantua. New York: New York University Press, 1971.

Maryanne Cline Horowitz

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