A little gem in Florence, the Laurentian Library (Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana) holds a vast collection of early-edition books, prints and manuscripts, the bulk of which formed the private library of one of Florence’s most important families.
Having worked their way up from their merchant beginnings to become rulers and even Popes, the Medici family (specifically under Medici Pope, Clement VII) constructed the library to promote themselves as learned members of society.
Commencing in 1525, the Laurentian Library building was designed by and constructed under the watchful eye of Michelangelo until his departure from Florence 9 years later. Upon leaving the city, Michelangelo gave strict instructions to Tribolo, Basari, and Ammannati on how to bring the work to its conclusion, which occurred in 1571.
The reading room of the library features stunning stained glass windows bearing the heraldry of the Medici family and specifically that of Clement VII and Cosimo I, in a design likely realised by Vasari. Equally as breath-taking is the ornately carved wooden ceiling by Giovanni Battista del Tasso and Antonio di Marco di Giano based on a design by Michelangelo. However, the first thing one notices upon entry is the splendid terracotta floor dating back to 1548, designed by Tribolo and created by Santi Buglioni. The ceiling was designed to encase the same symbolism encompassed in the other decorative elements of the room, all of which allude to the Medici family.
Today, the museum houses 5,000 early-edition books, 11,000 manuscripts and close to 130,000 prints, around 1,600 of which date back to the 1500s whilst the remaining 126,000-odd are from the 17th-20th centuries.
The early manuscripts were indexed and put on display on parapets designed by Michelangelo that serve as shelving, lecterns and seating. These remain to this day in the 46 meter-long reading room. The collection, arranged by subject, remained in place until the 1900s when they were moved to what is today known as the Bibliotecca Nazionale Centrale di Firenze.
With Florence hosting some of the world’s greatest artworks in some of the most important museums in Italy, the Laurentian Library offers a charming (and usually uncrowded) place to visit, especially great for return visitors to the city or those passionate about architecture and the history behind it.