Fons largus conference

Session V: Gigantium humeris. Historic Libraries: Relevance to Today

This session is dedicated to the memory of the late Professor Philipp Fehl, a historian of art from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Director of the Cicognara Library Project. Thanks to the generosity of the Professor, a copy of the microfiche edition of Count Leopoldo F. Cicognara’s Library, a splendid source presenting the principles of the history and theory of fine arts and architecture, of  classical archaeology, art criticism and taste, has enriched the Special Collections of the Institute of Art of the Polish Academy of Sciences and made this valuable resource accessible to Polish scholars.

The great legacy of Count Leopoldo F. Cicognara (1767-1834), one of the founding fathers of the discipline of art history, is his library, which consisted of a wide and generous range of nearly 5 000 books on art, architecture, classical archaeology and related subjects, which has been part of the Vatican Library since 1824. The Fondo Cicognara, as it is usually described, was well known thanks to Count Cicognara’s own Catalogo ragionato dei libri d'arte e d'antitichita posseduti dal Conte Cicognara published in Piza in 1821 and praised by historians of art, especially those connected with the traditions of the Viennese School, manifested by Julius von Schlosser (1866-1938) in his Kunstliteratur (1924). In order to make the contents of this precious collection available to scholars around the world in its entirety, Prof. Philipp Fehl (1920-2000) made the effort to prepare a microfiche edition of Count Cicognara’s Library. This became possible, because the Vatican Library regarded the idea of making its resources available to researches with great favour. In addition, the Samuel H. Kress Foundation decided to back the joint program of publishing the Fondo Cicognara undertaken by the Vatican Library and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign by providing adequate financial support. This made it possible to conduct editorial work and turn the films taken from books by the Photographic Department of the Vatican Library into microfiches by Chadwyck-Healey in England.

Referring to the example of Count Cicognara’s Library, emphasising the work and figure of Professor Fehl, and his great interest in the printed sources of art history, the organisers would like to encourage participants to consider the former and current functions of historic library collections, especially those which were founded for research purposes by men who significantly affected their disciplines, as it was done by Count Cicognara. If we compare a list of titles from Count Cigognara’s Library with similar lists of libraries that belonged to other eminent figures of Count Cicognara’s period, for example Antoine Quatremère de Quincy (1755-1849), Giuseppe Bossi (1777-1815) or Stanisław Kostka Potocki (1755-1821), it seems worth  paying more attention to the beginnings and asking the question: why were the libraries of the fathers of art and cultural history as a discipline and of other erudite people of the 18th and the first part of the 19th centuries founded and in what way were they developed? The time of the scholars mentioned here resulted in a breakthrough in  thinking about the nature of works of art and architecture, about the artistic creativity and the history of art. Therefore, in the context of Count Cicognara’s Library and in comparison to this collection, it also seems worth analysing all the acts, processes and phenomena which led to forming the canon of required reading of that time. What were the reading preferences of these people and why? What premises can be seen to indicate the rules of the selection and acquisition of books for their libraries, which became scholarly workshops of that time?

Some historic library collections survived partly or nearly in their entirety for centuries or decades, others were widely dispersed and are known only from entries in preserved inventories or auction catalogues. These records and such evidence are subjects of detailed analyses and comprehensive studies. In effect, it is possible to consider a theoretical, virtual or even real reconstruction of these libraries. The constantly updated techniques of saving and cumulating data, or displaying collections might make such reconstruction more attractive and easy to use in practice. What would be the research value of such projects and what is their relevance today? What is the fate of all the elaborate compilations of entries in former inventories or catalogues, of the analyses of annotations to such descriptions or notes left in books and catalogues by the owners of these collections? What scientific results should we expect making historic libraries accessible on microfiche, or on the digital platform? Some historic libraries have been founded thanks to a collector’s passion for books and learning, others also for specific purposes related to documentary works, scholarly research or academic projects, still others more to propagate certain ideas or conducts of society. Should the microfiche or digital editions of historic libraries be recognised as clear, comprehensive and unquestionable evidence of former reading and records of thoughts, principles and ideas linked with artistic or scientific creativity? The interest in modern printed sources of the theory and history of art and architecture remains  strong - in some academic centres it is stimulating and truly profound. Examples are provided by such book series as the Fontes. Quellen und Dokumente zur Kunst 1350-1750 edited in Munich, or the activity of the Fondazione Memofonte in Florence and its website. While regarding the microfiche edition of Count Cicognara’s Library as a groundbreaking project in this field, there is still the  need to ask a question about the research and didactic significance and merits of such historic libraries - what would be the value of introducing them directly into the didactic process?

 

 
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