The Great Art of Knowing: The Baroque Encyclopedia of Athanasius Kircher


The Stanford University Libraries presented the exhibit, The Great Art of Knowing: The Baroque Encyclopedia of Athanasius Kircher. Commemorating the 400th anniversary of the renowned Jesuit's birth, the exhibit featured over 50 rare 17th and 18th century editions acquired by Stanford in 1998 from the collection of Ella and Bernard Mazel. The Great Art of Knowing was on view at Stanford University's Cecil H. Green Library, Peterson Gallery, from April 22 to July 22, 2001.

Regarded by many as one of Europe's most inventive and versatile scholars of the Baroque era, Kircher published more than thirty works on such topics as astronomy, magnetism, cryptology, numerology, Egyptology, geology, and music. A contemporary of Newton and Descartes, Kircher was also the creator of one of Europe's earliest and most famous museums at the Collegio Romano in Rome. As a tribute to Kircher, his museum was recently reconstructed in David Wilson's Museum of Jurassic Technology in Los Angeles, and also in an exhibit that opened this winter at the Palazzo Venezia in Rome.

Curated by Daniel Stolzenberg, Graduate Student in the History of Science and Early Modern European History at Stanford, and designed by Becky Fischbach, Exhibits Designer and Preparer for the Stanford University Libraries, the exhibit featured Stanford's virtually complete holdings of Kircher's published, and lavishly illustrated 17th century editions, along with a host of other related rare books in the history of science.

Also featured was a working reconstruction of a controversial magnetic clock, invented and described by Kircher in 1641. Recreated by sculptor Caroline Bouguereau, the clock consists of an orb marked with 12 hours balanced in a glass sphere of water. The orb appears to rotate by a mysterious force following the motions of the heavens, and the time of day is indicated by a small fish. The clock illustrates the mystery and spirit of Baroque experimentation while also reflecting the cosmological debates sparked by Galileo's trial in 1633.

The exhibit coincided with the conference, "Baroque Imaginary: The World of Athanasius Kircher, S. J. (1602-1680)," taking place on April 27-28, at the Bender Room, Green Library, Stanford University. Coordinated by Paula Findlen, Professor of History and Director of the Science, Technology, and Society Program, and presented by the Program in History and Philosophy of Science, the conference will brought together an international group of scholars from many disciplines, engaged in actively exploring the culture of Baroque Europe through the world of Kircher.

The exhibit and conference also converged with the launch of a new online edition of Kircher's vast unpublished correspondence, edited by Michael John Gorman and Nick Wilding. Kircher had a global network of learned correspondents, who sent him exotic plant and animal species, astronomical observations, copies of ancient inscriptions and curious objects for his museum from around the globe. His highly eclectic correspondence has been humorously likened to a Baroque version of the Internet, availing of the global spread of Jesuit colleges and missions from Brazil to Goa to provide Kircher with a steady stream of information on all subjects, from music and magnetism to the Chinese language. The new digital edition of the correspondence is an initiative undertaken by Stanford Libraries in collaboration with the Institute and Museum of History of Science in Florence and the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome.
In conjunction with the exhibit and conference, the Stanford University Libraries published a richly illustrated, special volume about Kircher and his work. The Great Art of Knowing: The Baroque Encyclopedia of Athanasius Kircher, was edited by Daniel Stolzenberg, and featured essays by a number of Stanford affiliated scholars and Kircher experts from other institutions.