Stevens Unveils Rare, Restored Da Vinci Book

10/8/2012

At a ceremony October 6, Stevens unveiled the restoration of a rare early 16th-century book illustrated by Leonardo da Vinci and owned by the university. The project was generously underwritten by Mary Jane Semcer, wife of Frank Semcer '65, who presented the university with the book during a luncheon organized as part of the Stevens Family Reunion celebration on campus October 5-7.

The book, "De Divina Proportione," is an influential treatise on geometry, art, and architecture by the Renaissance scholar Luca Pacioli, who asked his friend, housemate, and student da Vinci to provide realistic drawings and woodcuts of pyramids, cylinders, complex polyhedrons, and other geometric forms for the book. The work came into Stevens' hands through John William Lieb, a member of the Stevens Class of 1880 credited with the invention of hydroelectric power plants in their modern form.

Mrs. Semcer learned about the need for restoring historic items from Stevens' Historic Preservation Committee, which had prepared a list of items in need of restoration. After expressing interested in funding a project and surveying a list of needs, she singled out the Divina. Her gracious gift allowed the careful restoration process — which involved the hand-washing of pages, the removal and replacement of 500-year-old glue, new binding, and other repairs — to take place in late summer.

Restorer Michael Chrisman of Bookbinders Workshop, one of the nation's premier experts on the restoring of ancient books and manuscripts, performed the work.

"Restoring a work like the Divina requires sound technical skill, artistic vision, and a fearless approach," explained Adam Winger, Stevens' digital initiatives librarian. "Michael has the skill to wash and restore a 500-year-old piece of paper. These many tedious hours of restoration ensure that the Divina will endure for another 500 years."

The book will now be housed securely in the S.C. Williams Library's da Vinci Room, where researchers, educators and students will have the opportunity to examine Leonardo’s drawings, Winger said.

"Stevens has an incredible historic legacy," added Hoveida Farvardin, a member of the Historic Preservation Committee and the wife of university President Nariman Farvardin, who developed a strong interest in preserving Stevens' history after the President arrived in 2011. "The university was established by a family of engineers and innovators who pioneered the development of the steamboat, designed the first American-built locomotive, and invented the modern T-rail among, many other contributions. And there is so much more here.

"We owe it to the future generations of our community to take care of the historic treasures this university owns. They are in clear need of being catalogued, restored, and preserved. The wonderful restoration of this amazing book — which is living history itself — is a significant step forward in that process."