Athanasius Kircher is the Baroque era's answer to Leonardo da Vinci.
Born in 1602, the Jesuit polymath authored more than 30 books on topics such as astronomy, magnetism, cryptology, numerology, the Egyptian language, geology and music. He created one of Europe's earliest and most famous museums at the Collegio Romano in Rome, and also is widely considered to be the founder of Egyptology.
To commemorate the 400th anniversary of his birth (officially, next year), Stanford University Libraries will present an exhibit featuring more than 50 rare 17th- and 18th-century publications, many of which were acquired in 1998 from the collection of Ella and Bernard Mazel.
"The Great Art of Knowing: The Baroque Encyclopedia of Athanasius Kircher" will be on view from April 22 through July 22 in the Peterson Gallery at the Cecil H. Green Library. The exhibit will feature Stanford's virtually complete holdings of 17th-century books by Kircher, as well as many other rare books about Kircher and the history of science.
In addition, the exhibit will feature a working reconstruction of a controversial magnetic clock. Kircher exposed how hidden magnets made the clock work to prevent defenders of Copernicus from using it as evidence that the Earth was in motion. (The clock was recreated by sculptor Caroline Bouguereau.)
The exhibit's curator is Daniel Stolzenberg, a graduate student in the history of science and early modern European history. Becky Fischbach, exhibits designer and preparer for Stanford University Libraries, is designing the show.
The exhibit also coincides with a conference, "Baroque Imaginary: The World of Athanasius Kircher, S.J. (1602-1680)," scheduled to be held April 27-28 in the Bender Room of Green Library. Paula Findlen, a history professor and director of the Science, Technology and Society Program, is coordinating the event, which will bring together an international group of scholars.
An online edition of Kircher's vast, unpublished correspondence also is scheduled to be launched about the time of the conference. Visiting scholars Michael John Gorman and Nick Wilding edited the letters. The project is a collaboration between Stanford Libraries and the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome. For more information, visit http://www-sul.stanford.edu/depts/hasrg/hdis/kircher.html .
Stanford Libraries has published an illustrated volume in conjunction with the exhibit and conference. The Great Art of Knowing: The Baroque Encyclopedia of Athanasius Kircher can be purchased for $35 plus tax and shipping. Edited by Stolzenberg, the volume contains essays by scholars affiliated with Stanford and other Kircher experts. For copies, contact Lucretia Cerny at (650) 725-1021 or firstname.lastname@example.org .
Stanford Report, April 18, 2001