If the perceived infinite can calm, it can also disorient, and this perhaps is the power some lists have, that most intrigues Eco. The Italian title for this book, in fact, is probably more accurately translated for me as 'The Vertigo of Infinity' or 'The Giddiness of the Infinite.'*
From the first chapter of the Italian version:
"Però con questo libro non si va solo alla scoperta di una forma letteraria di rado analizzata, ma si mostra anche come le arti figurative siano capaci di suggerire elenchi infiniti, anche quando la rappresentazione sembra severamente limitata dalla cornice del quadro. Così il lettore troverà in queste pagine una lista di immagini che ci fanno sentire la vertigine dell’illimitato."
And my translation: with a little help from the google
This book not only examines a literary form rarely analyzed, but also shows how the arts are able to suggest infinite lists, even when the representation seems severely limited by the frame of the picture. Thus the reader will find in these pages a list of images that make us feel the vertigo of the unlimited.
An example of the 'suggestion of the infinite' Eco uses is the Mona Lisa. Leonardo da Vinci chose to portray la Gioconda not in some closed room, but in front of a window or perhaps on a balcony, and the landscape suggests a background that goes on and on. I read only recently that the background on the Mona Lisa may have indeed been larger and has been cut down over time. Compare to the recent restoration of 'La Gioconda' by the Museo Nacional del Prado. This copy of the Mona Lisa has been attributed to da Vinci's atelier, and it looks like it may have been painted in parallel to the original, side-by-side , and nearly strok-by-stroke, but hasn't suffered the same loss over the years. And this image actually shows a window frame, or outlines of columns and sill of a balcony or galleria, which may have been present on the original. wild tangent complete
The book itself is lush with beautiful images and text culled from the greatest works in the last few thousand years, beautifully printed and bound by Rizzoli. The Infinity of Lists may be a little obsessive, and little too rich with examples, but as a companion book to an exhibit, I suppose that makes sense. I have few more Umberto Eco novels on my shelf, but I think they'll stay there for a while while I rest my brain.
* Translation of The Infinity of Lists is by Alastair McEwen. Altho, the Bibliographical References of Translations in the backmatter, includes a note about the translations of the various texts used as examples throughout the book by a person named Alta L. Price.