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Essay On Books Exhibition In China

Rome Reborn: The Vatican Library & Renaissance Culture

Home | Essay | Acknowledgments

Sections:  Introduction | The Vatican Library | Archaeology | Humanism | Mathematics | Music | Medicine | Nature | Orient to Rome | Rome to China

Exhibition Companion Volume

From the Preface

The exhibition which this book accompanies is the first in a series of exhibitions that the Library of Congress plans to present about great libraries of the world. The catalogs that will provide a record of each of the exhibits intend to go far beyond simple descriptions of artifacts. These books will be distinguished by highly readable scholarly studies, written by leading specialists, of the intellectual, social, and cultural environments that created the objects on display.

It is especially fitting that this series begin with the Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana. The Vatican Library is the prototypical modern research library of western culture. Surprisingly, its collections are not primarily theological. From its founding by Pope Nicholas V in the 1450s, the Vatican Library consciously pursued an acquisitions policy that focused upon the liberal arts and sciences. Consequently, the library has special strengths in unexpected areas, such as the history of the exact sciences, East Asian languages and literatures, and music history.

As Professor Grafton makes clear in his introductory essay, this counterintuitive acquisition policy was not accidental; it reflected the conscious determination of the Renaissance papacy to place knowledge systematically at the service of governance. Heir to that tradition, Thomas Jefferson assigned precisely the same function to the Library of Congress in the context of American democracy: to ground the world of public affairs in the world of learning. It is, therefore, fully appropriate that this exhibition take place in the Library of Congress, an institution that represents the ultimate modern embodiment of an ideal that originated with the Renaissance popes.

This volume and the exhibition it describes also testify to a special relationship that exists between the Library of Congress and the Vatican Library. During the 1920s and 1930s, the Library of Congress, supported by a grant from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, sent teams of technical experts to assist in the modernization of the Vatican Library's technical operations. The first time I met Fr. Leonard Boyle, the present prefect of the Vatican Library, he recounted to me the history of this extensive collaboration. As Father Boyle suggests in his essay, this unique exhibition is the Vatican's elegant way of repaying the assistance given by its American collaborator.

The Library of Congress's curatorial team learned new and surprising things in the process of selecting the two hundred manuscripts, rare books, maps, and fine prints for display. Certain schools of western historiography have depicted the papacy as fighting a long rearguard action against the rise of modernization and enlightenment. Our curators discovered quite a different reality. They were impressed by the level and depth of papal sponsorship of the life of the mind throughout the Renaissance--especially the birth of Near and Far Eastern studies and the rise of modern science and classical studies. Beyond the well-known story of papal patronage of the arts remains another untold story of great historical interest.

It is my hope that this magnificent exhibition and its accompanying volume will stimulate serious academic research on this and other heretofore neglected topics.

James H. Billington
The Librarian of Congress

From the Acknowledgments

The book Rome Reborn: The Vatican Library & Renaissance Culture and the exhibition it commemorates are the work of many people, and it is a pleasure to finish off the project by thanking those who made it possible. In the first instance, and above all, thanks are owed to Declan Murphy of the Library of Congress, who directed the project. He negotiated the exhibition; he arranged our initial visit to Rome in winter 1989, when planning began; his siren songs induced librarians and scholars to collaborate and various benefactors, to provide financial support; and his erudition and intelligence were crucial at every stage. Other members of the Library staff made vital contributions. James Billington, the Librarian of Congress, raised critical funds and offered generous moral and institutional support. Stephen Ostrow, Robert Dierker, Carolyn Brown, and Diantha Schull gave us the considerable benefit of their constructive criticism. Norma Baker helped in many ways, above all by serving, along with Richard Sherr, as the section curator for music. Irene Burnham and her staff provided expert technical support at all stages, from the first discussions of the exhibition's shape and scope to its actual mounting in a splendidly refinished exhibition room. Dana Pratt, Johanna Craig, and Evelyn Sinclair of the Publishing Office transformed texts and images into a finished book with meticulous care. Marlene Pamer coordinated the movements of an alarmingly varied and numerous cast of characters with patience and sang- froid. Jimmy Haritos coordinated events, budgets, and paperwork for the entire operation. And Elizabeth Wulkan, sine qua non, managed the entire enterprise with an equanimity, efficiency, and good humor that proved essential to all participants.

John W. Kluge, in a touching gesture of spontaneous generosity, underwrote the entire cost of the exhibition. The Charles W. Engelhard Foundation generously subsidized the design and fabrication of the exhibition cases. Two firms collaborated to give the exhibit its splendid physical embodiment. John Crank and Bob Riggs of Franklin Street Communications, Richmond, Virginia, and Michael Graves, Keith McPeters, and Tom Rowe of Michael Graves, Architect, Princeton, New Jersey, created an environment that complemented both the Library of Congress's splendid exhibit space and the Vatican Library's matchless manuscripts and books.

The Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana supported our efforts with extraordinary generosity. Secretary of State Agostino Cardinal Casaroli gave permission for this unprecedented loan. The prefect of the Library, Father Leonard Boyle, gave us wonderful working conditions, sound advice, enthusiastic support, and the inspiration of his own love for the manuscripts. The beleaguered but ever-generous staff of the manuscript room, Guido Zanoni and Claudio Anzini, and Ernesto Brevetto greeted strenuous demands on their time and energy with patience and kindness. Amadeo Arditi and the staff of the photography department produced a vast number of splendid photographs with meticulous care. And many fellow devotees of the Vatican collections gave expert advice. Special thanks should go to John Monfasani, whose counsel ranged beyond the contents of the library to the restaurants of Rome; to Joseph Connors, who gave hospitality and encouragement to several of the section curators in his capacity as director of the American Academy in Rome; and to Michael Crawford, Arthur Field, Isabel Frank, Katherine Gill, Vivian Nutton, and Ingrid Rowland.

Finally, I wish to thank the section curators, whose erudition and energy made it possible to mount this exhibition and to produce this catalog; and Helen St. John, who saved all of us from many errors of taste and substance in her capacity as research assistant to the editor.

Anthony Grafton

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Norma Baker, Library of Congress, is a musicologist and is currently an administrator in the Office of the Librarian of Congress.

Howard L. Goodman, Department of East Asian Studies, Harvard University, is an intellectual historian who specializes in the history of religion, magic, and science in ancient China and the cultural relations between China and the West in early modern times. He is managing editor of Asia Major.

Anthony Grafton, Department of History, Princeton University, studies the history of Renaissance humanism and of early modern science. His books include Forgers and Critics (Princeton University Press, 1990) and Defenders of the Text (Harvard University Press, 1991).

Alastair Hamilton, Department of the History of Ideas, University of Leiden, works on the history of religion and the development of Near Eastern scholarship in early modern Europe. He has written, among other books, William Bedwell, the Arabist (E. J. Brill and Leiden University Press, 1985) and he regularly reviews books on early modern history for the Times Literary Supplement.

James Hankins, Department of History, Harvard University, has written the definitive two-volume historical study Plato in the Italian Renaissance, Columbia Studies in the Classical Tradition (E. J. Brill, 1990). He is currently studying both the Platonic Academy of Marsilio Ficino and the career and thought of Leonardo Bruni, the distinguished humanist who served for many years as chancellor of the Republic of Florence.

Richard Sherr, Department of Music, Smith College, is an expert on the history of musical life and performance in Renaissance Rome.

Nancy G. Siraisi, Department of History, Hunter College, and the Graduate Center, City University of New York, is a historian of medicine and of education in medieval and Renaissance Europe. She has written several books, including The Canon of Avicenna in Sixteenth Century Italy (Princeton University Press, 1986).

N. M. Swerdlow, Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics, University of Chicago, studies the history of the exact sciences in the ancient world and during the Renaissance. He is the author, with the late O. Neugebauer, of the first detailed account, in two volumes, of Mathematical Astronomy in Copernicus's De revolutionibus (Springer-Verlag, 1984).

Catalog Ordering Information

The book Rome Reborn: The Vatican Library and Renaissance Culture is available in hardcover from Yale University Press for $55.00. To place an order, please write to the Special Sales Department at:

92A Yale Station
New Haven, CT 06520
attn: Orders
or fax to 800-777-YALE.

A paperbound edition of Rome Reborn is available for $25.00 directly from the Library of Congress. It is for sale in person at the Library of Congress Sales Shop and by mail through the

Library of Congress Publishing Office
Box J
Washington, DC 20540

Write to this office for information on shipping and handling charges.

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Home | Essay | Acknowledgments

Sections:  Introduction | The Vatican Library | Archaeology | Humanism | Mathematics | Music | Medicine | Nature | Orient to Rome | Rome to China

A quote I like is: “ I call architecture frozen music.” This was said by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, quoted in Peter Eckermann’s Conversations with Goethe. I found a lecture called, “Can music data be frozen into architecture?” by Jan Henrik Hansen in a TED talk; he is a Zurich-based architect/artist/designer who turns (time-based) music into (space-based) physical sculptures and architectural structures. That made me wonder if sound data could be frozen into a letterforms to form a typeface. What would the typeface sound like? What would the typeface look like in specific sound scenes?


After the research, I thought about my design system. I wanted to create letters that changed dynamically over time in response to the sounds in the environment. Specifically, I sought to craft letters that somehow moved in reaction to aural stimuli. The stimuli would be sounds recorded from daily life. Therefore, I had to create a visual system for connecting sound and visual elements together. Sounds from our environment could change the appearance of the letters. Letterforms could grow bigger or smaller in response to the specific sound. This was my initial idea.


My first job was to choose locations and record the sounds. I went to New York City. New York is a vibrant city that has quiet places like Central Park and noisy places like Times Square. Those rich, sonic environments were good resources for sound data. I wrote down a list of what I heard in the specific scenes. For example, at a park in the morning, I heard people walking and running, birds chirping, a fountain splashing, and dogs barking. I recorded the audio with a professional Sony sound recorder. When I returned home, I listened to the audio tracks and chose the best recordings.


The next step was to transfer the best audio tracks to Adobe Audition, the software program that allowed me to edit the audio. The sound in our environment is often too messy and complicated. So, instead, I decided to isolate the many sounds onto 9 tracks in order to create the aural environment. I thought of this process as being similar to cooking. Sounds are like raw materials, and when you put them together, the combination gives the full flavor of a complete dish.


I created a 15 by 15 two-dimensional square grid and drew letters on the grid to create one single letter. I used 3D software to draw letters into a 3D space, repeating the letter on to 9 layers for the 9 sound channels. Different sounds will affect different layers of a letter.


After transferring sound qualities to visual forms,  I used the 3D geometry to build the new visual system to respond to the recordings of environmental sounds. I input the shapes to the letters into the grid. When the sound started, each point would affect the sizes and forms of the specific point on letters, and then, when the 9 layers of letters mixed together based on each sound, it would show different styles of the forms based on real time and the situation.


In order to show a variety of dynamic letterforms, I chose 5 sound scenes from our familiar everyday life: a park, a street, a cafe, a subway and an office. And then I selected the pair of words “look” and “hear” as the letters that would react to the environmental sounds.


When you hear the sound from the animation, you see the word “LOOK,” and the title is “ Scene 1.” Then you see the word “HEAR,” and the scene is identified as a “Park.” This is a way to trigger associations about aural and visual signals, sight and hearing.


In addition to changing the sizes of the geometric shapes, I changed the angle and direction based on the original shapes to build an atmosphere of the real visual scenes, such as the subway scene. Although the basic shapes come from a cube, I stretched both sides of the cube as a long rectangle to show the look of the subway.


In the exhibition space, I created a 3D letter sculpture, Interactive screen, main video wall, print letter "O,” and two books. Every design element in the exhibition space supports one system but with a different method.


For the letter sculpture, the material is black, hard paper. I folded 68 geometric 3D objects from the visual system I created to build the letter “O” as the beginning of my exhibition. I want to give the visitor a 3D perception. And then, beside the sculpture, an interactive flat screen analyzes the sound from the surroundings and shows different shapes based on sound frequency. People in the exhibition space can play with the interactive screen. I used a software called “processing” and input the library “minim” to analyze sound from the microphone on screen. Visitors can provide any sound, even music, to generate dynamic change in the letters of “LOOK.” And in the middle of the space is my main 3D typeface animation. It includes 5 different sound scenes which generate shifting typographic forms. A big sound dome in the front of the animation and an “ O “ signage on the ground give visitors a clear sound quality. I printed 80 different  “O” shapes generated by the animation and mounted them on the 80 black boards. I used fishing line to connect them together to build a pattern wall.


In the exhibition, there are two books that I put in different exhibition locations. The small book is just 6”x 6”, and it shows the basic system and how different sounds manifest as dramatic shifts in shape which then change the appearance of the actual letter. This book is under the interactive screen, and when visitors play with the screen, they can read the book to get a better understanding of the project. The big book documents the sounds and static frames of the typeface.


There are two important details in my exhibition. The first one is the book holders I created for the two books in the exhibition. I used a duplicate of the letter “O”  from my 3D sculpture. This idea came to me on installation day. I wanted to find a holder for the big book on the pedestal in order to make the book stand out from the flat vinyl description. When I was thinking about that, I found I still had some 3D objects I hadn’t used, so I thought I could use them as holders. The other detail is the sign on the floor just below the Sound Dome. The shape of the sign follows the same structure of the 15 x 15 grid I used to draw the letters. These two details made my exhibition much more uniform.