Miraculous Work of Engineering from the Renaissance in the USC Libraries

Posted by Tyson Gaskill

The USC Libraries recently cataloged a rare book donated by longtime Friends Board Member Dr. Edwin Todd, who passed away earlier this year. Dr. Todd was a true Renaissance man with interests that spanned the scientific and humanistic fields so it was no surprise to find he possessed an Italian book by the architect Domenico Fontana, about one of the great engineering feats of the Renaissance. Della trasportatione dell’obelisco vaticano et delle fabriche di Nostro Signore papa Sisto V, published in Rome in 1590, documents the successful re-erection in Saint Peter’s Square of an ancient Roman obelisk weighing 327 tons, which was first brought to Rome from Alexandria in 40 AD by the Emperor Caligula. About 900 men, 100 horses, and 50 cranes were required to relocate it in the Vatican square in a project that took more than four months to complete.

USC Professor of History and bestselling author Deborah Harkness, who regularly teaches graduate seminars on printing in Early Modern Europe, was delighted to see the volume: “The USC Libraries have many treasures in their Special Collections, but discovering such a rare and important work that combines the arts, science, and urban planning was especially exciting. The book is in beautiful condition, and will contribute so much to our students understanding of the Renaissance.”

Like with all of our other materials in Special Collections, the university community is welcome to make an appointment to view the work.