Leonardo's Library: Online

September 4, 2019
Benjamin L Albritton
Leonardo's Library Spotlight

In May, 2019, three colleagues launched an exhibit to mark the 500th anniversary of Leonardo da Vinci's death by celebrating the books and ideas that shaped his world. Leonardo's Library: The World of a Renaissance Reader will be on display through mid-October in the Green Library Bing Wing. The three colleagues, Prof. Paula Findlen, John Mustain (Emeritus Curator of Rare Books), and Elizabeth Fischbach (exhibits designer and manager for Stanford Libraries Special Collections), brought a wealth of knowledge, expertise, and experience to a real blockbuster demonstration of what can be accomplished when Stanford faculty, libraries, and a team of exceptional students come together to tell a story with our collections. We're happy to announce a new online exhibit, https://exhibits.stanford.edu/leonardo, to parallel and augment the physical experience and preserve a memory of this event for posterity.

 Leonardo Catalog 

With nearly 40 contributors to the intellectual content and organization of the materials, a deluxe scholarly catalog (see image above, available for purchase from Special Collections), an opening reception that featured a performance from Chocolate Heads Movement Band, and the subsequent retirement of two of the colleagues (Mustain and Fischbach), we wanted to capture as much of the spirit of this collaborative effort as we could in the online exhibit. The size of the team grew even further as we moved this material into a digital representation. To that end, this version displays content digitized for the exhibit alongside materials that have been imaged by the Digital Production Group over the years, preserved in the Stanford Digital Repository, and delivered via the Spotlight software developed and maintained by the Digital Library Systems and Services group and managed by a service team guided by Cathy Aster, along with a record of the opening reception captured by Stanford Video (also preserved in and served from the SDR).

Exhibit Overview

Spotlight provides a platform for us to recreate each case in the physical exhibit, juxtaposing the text created by the contributors with embedded digital content allowing us to see details that might not be as easily accessible when viewing the objects in person. For instance, in the case entitled "Leonardo's First Books" sits a fifteenth-century vellum scroll measuring about 5-1/2 feet in length - an item which is nearly impossible to view in its entirety in the exhibit, but which can be examined in fine detail in Spotlight:

Vespucci ScrollDetail of Scroll

The case-by-case view guides us through the story of Leonardo's Library as the curators envisioned it for a visitor strolling through the Munger Rotunda and Peterson Gallery. We also offer a more free-form exploration of the materials by simply offering all of the digital content for self-guided browsing.


The About pages offer an opportunity to celebrate some of the otherwise ephemeral moments in the life of this exhibit, including the full video of the Chocolate Heads performance and images captured at the opening reception and at the Green Library Centennial Celebration when visitors were treated to a guided tour by John Mustain and others.


This section also provides a full listing of all of the faculty, staff, and students involved in this exhibit (many of whom are also named with their contributions throughout the site): https://exhibits.stanford.edu/leonardo/about/principal-contributors

For those of you who have seen Leonardo's Library already, we hope this online version allows you to explore and browse the materials curated and presented by Prof. Findlen, her students, and the library team in more detail. If you have not yet seen the exhibit, may this online preview whet your appetite and encourage you to come and visit Green Library to see these cases in person. To get started, please enjoy the Chocolate Heads' opening performance, "The Chocolate Ball for Polymaths" (organized by Aleta Hayes), the first of its kind in the Rotunda, as an introduction to the overall Leonardo experience (click the image below to begin):

Chocolate Heads