The Medicea Laurenziana Library
Commissioned by Pope Clement VII, a Medici, to house the family’s precious collection of manuscripts, the Medicea Laurenziana Library (Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana) was designed by Michelangelo, who personally directed the works from 1523 to 1534, the year in which he moved to Rome. The library was completed in 1571 by Giorgio Vasari and Bartolomeo Ammannati, whom Cosimo I de’ Medici had entrusted with finishing the work following Michelangelo’s design. It was opened to the public the same year.
The entrance hall, called a vestibule, is dominated by the great pietra serena stone stairway built by Ammannati in 1559, following the plans of Michelangelo who had, however, imagined it constructed in walnut.
At the top of the staircase, a large gate leads into the vast reading hall, one of the few 16th century areas that is almost perfectly preserved: here everything is original, from the lime wood ceiling carved by Giovan Battista del Tasso following Michelangelo’s design, to the magnificent windows with the Medici insignia designed by Giorgio Vasari, and finally the beautiful terracotta red and white floor designed by Niccolò Tribolo, Buonarroti’s pupil. The wooden benches, called plutei, that run in parallel lines along the two sides of the hall were created following Michelangelo’s design. They had the double function of bookstands and cupboards: the codexes were stored horizontally on the lower shelves, fastened to the bench with chains, and could be consulted freely.
Preserved to this day in the library, the original nucleus of codexes reflects the cultured humanistic atmosphere of the courts of Cosimo il Vecchio and Lorenzo il Magnifico. The precious manuscripts by Greek and Latin scholars are proof of the interest in classical authors that thrived at the Medici court thanks to the influence of Neoplatonic philosophy.
In the first decades of the 19th century, the Tribuna dell’Elci was added to the original spaces. The circular room was designed by Pasquale Poccianti to house the collection of manuscripts and antique volumes Florentine scholar and bibliophile Angelo Maria d’Elci had donated to the library.