Friday, January 01, 2010



Thanks to Pierre Wechter for passing along a reproduction of a curious painting which I'd never seen before, Giuseppe Arcimboldo's The Librarian, together with an abstract of K.C. Elhard, "Reopening the Book on Arcimboldo's Librarian," Libraries & Culture 40.2 (Spring 2005) 115-127. First the painting:

Next, the abstract of Elhard's article:
The Librarian (ca. 1566) is a well-known painting by Giuseppe Arcimboldo, a court artist for the Hapsburg emperors Ferdinand I, Maximilian II, and Rudolf II. Arcimboldo's "composite portrait" of a librarian cleverly assembled from a pile of books has been interpreted narrowly as a parody of librarianship and of intellectualism in general, due in part to Sven Alfons's identification of the librarian as the court historiographer, Wolfgang Lazius. This reevaluation of The Librarian attempts to broaden the conventional view held by art historians and librarians. Considered within the context of late Renaissance book culture (particularly, Sebastian Brant's Ship of Fools), Arcimboldo's humor takes on a new signification. The Librarian may have targeted not those who love learning but rather materialistic book collectors more interested in acquiring books than in reading them.
Holbrook Jackson, Anatomy of Bibliomania XV.v, discusses "Men Who Become Books: Biblioanthropus Defined," in which he quotes, among many others, Charles Lamb, Oxford in the Vacation:
I leave these curiosities to Porson, and to G.D.—whom, by the way, I found busy as a moth over some rotten archive, rummaged out of some seldom-explored press, in a nook at Oriel. With long poring, he is grown almost into a book. He stood as passive as one by the side of the old shelves. I longed to new-coat him in Russia, and assign him his place. He might have mustered for a tall Scapula.
(Emphasis added.) G.D. is George Dyer. Jackson concludes his discussion of men who become books with these words:
On that note I close this volume and affirm that bookmen, men of letters, students, and all manner of passionate readers are a species apart finding their sustenance in the printed word as plants imbibe air and fishes animalculae; they do not look upon life with their own eyes, but through the eyes of books as through an optical glass, magnifying, intensifying, distorting or glorifying, according as they fancy it; or sometimes they eschew all common affairs and use books as kaleidoscopes to make for their own delight fantastic patterns which they use as substitutes for life. They become natives of a world of books, creatures of the printed word, and in the end cease to be men, as, by a gradual metastasis, they are resolved into bookmen: twice-born, first of woman (as every man) and then of books, and, by reason of this, unique and distinct from the rest.

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