Emory Report

February 2, 1998

 Volume 50, No. 19

Library acquires 15,000-volume Renaissance and Baroque collection

A 16th-century architectural treatise, a 17th-century guidebook to monuments in Rome and volumes of Italian Renaissance poetry will now be available for study in Emory's library thanks to the purchase of a major collection of Renaissance and Baroque art.

These volumes and others are part of the Suida-Manning Library purchased for an undisclosed price from the estate of the late William Emil Suida, an eminent art historian known for his work on Leonardo da Vinci and Genoese painting. The collection is considered to be one of the last great Renaissance and Baroque libraries existing in private hands.

"To take a class to the rare book room and have them actually hold and look through Palladio's 16th-century architectural treatise transports the students back in time," said Sarah McPhee, assistant professor of art history, who was involved in arranging the purchase. "It changes teaching; suddenly you're there in Venice and you feel so much closer to the ideas. There's no substitute for this experience, and it can have a tremendous impact on students."

The collection consists of approximately 15,000 volumes, which if lined up on the perimeter of a running track would go around once and then some. The library's current holdings in art history number more than 53,000 volumes, so the addition of the Suida material will mean a substantial boost to the overall size of the collection. In addition, the Suida library includes some 2,000 rare books and 70 core periodicals, which more than doubles Emory's holdings in those journals essential for art history research.

Riches in the collection include architectural treatises by Palladio and Sanmicheli; volumes of Italian poetry that span a three-century period from Dante to Tasso to Marino; a 1547 edition of the Renaissance humanist Leon Battista Alberti's treatise on painting; and Albrecht Durer's 1591 book on the symmetry of the human body.

"Beyond all the rare volumes, the real value of the collection is its breadth," said McPhee. Suida concentrated his collection of art history materials on the Italian Renaissance and Baroque periods, but the collection also has a substantial complement of Northern European material covering the same period.

"Emory has preserved intact an important phase in the intellectual history of art," added McPhee. "The collection chronicles the issues and debates of art history in its infancy in 19th-century Vienna." The volumes were collected by Suida and his daughter, art historian Bertina Suida-Manning, for nearly a century from 1895 to 1990. Although Suida died in 1959, his daughter and son-in-law Robert Manning continued to build and expand his library.

McPhee, whose research interests lie in 17th- and 18th-century Italian architecture and urbanism, was the art history liaison to the library and brought Elmar Seibel of Ars Libri, Ltd., a Boston-based bookseller, to Emory to assess the holdings in art history. "Elmar told us he had the Suida library available, and the library staff was extremely responsive in going forward with this purchase. In the current climate of economic retrenchment in higher education, Emory has the privilege of being one of the few institutions that is still able to make such an extraordinary scholarly purchase. The University now has one of the finest collections of Renaissance and Baroque material in the Southeast," McPhee said.

"The collection transforms the holdings of the library in art history into a resource that can far better serve Emory's scholarly community," said Clark Poling, professor and chair of art history. "Students and faculty in disciplines across the arts, humanities and history will benefit greatly from this new treasure."

"We've been building our collection in so many areas-classical, Egyptian, American and African American, as well as European-to support the art history PhD program, which is seven years old," said Jane Treadwell, head of collections and technical services. "In some ways it's been easier to do retrospective purchasing in an area like African art because many of the scholarly works have been published relatively recently. On the other hand, given the long tradition of scholarship on the Renaissance and Baroque periods, there is not only a greater universe of publications, but many of them are so scarce that we could never have obtained them on an individual basis. The Suida collection represents a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to assemble a research-level collection in this important area for the study of the history of art."

To hear Sarah McPhee talk about it, this acquisition isn't just about books. It's about how those books will enrich the experiences of Emory's 40 art history PhD students, undergraduate art history majors and others who are serious about the study of the history of art. For example, five of the rare illustrated volumes from the collection are on display at the Carlos Museum in conjunction with the exhibit of 17th-century engravings of Roman gardens.

­Jan Gleason

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