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The Laurentian Library

The Laurentian Library (Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana) is an historical library in Florence, which contains manuscripts and books from the private collection of the Medici family.

The original center of the Medici Laurentian Library complex was built in a cloister with a double loggia adjacent to the Basilica of San Lorenzo.  It was consecrated by St. Ambrose in 393 A.D.

The entrance to the Vestibule is from the upper level of the cloisters.  Inside the vestibule is a famous staircase designed by Michelangelo between 1519 and 1534, originally it was to be made of wood, but instead stone was used to complete the project.  This magnificent staircase, executed by Bartolomeo Ammannati, leads to the famous reading room.

In the cloister, it's possible to access the crypt wherein lie the tombs of Cosimo the Elder de Medici and the sculptor Donatello.

The library was named after the Basilica of San Lorenzo which lies adjacent to the property and after the Medici family because the original core, the center of the entire collection came to life there. Sixty- three codes from the private collection of Cosimo the Elder were identified, which later became 150 codes at the time of his death.

The uniqueness of the collection is not really about its quantity, but instead what makes the collection exceptional was that it was the result of an important decision, a choice that favored antiquities, the philological high regard, and the beauty that the heirs of Cosimo continued to seek with passion and wisdom enriching these invaluable codes.  The collection includes manuscripts containing the works of Tacitus, Aeschylus, Pliny, Sophocles, but also the most complete collection of the works of Virgil, formerly owned by to the Consul Turcius Rufo Asterio, dating back to 494 A.D.

The library also includes the complete works of the Platonic Dialogues which were donated to be translated from Greek, from Cosimo the Elder to the great Marsilio Ficino, who were chosen to be preceptors of Lorenzo the Magnificent.
The Squarialupi code is also part of the collection.  This code is the only existing source of secular music from the years 300 and 400.

During the time of the expulsion of the Medici family from Florence the entire collection was sold by the Signoria to the Dominican friars of San Marco.

Giovanni Medici ascended to the Papal throne in 1513 under the name of Leo X.  He recovered the Library's collection from the Dominican friars taking it to Rome and placing it in the family palace, currently Palazzo Madama, which houses the Senate.

Only under the papacy of Giovanni's cousin, Giulio de Medici, the son of Giuliano became Pope, under the name of Clement VII, were they able to return the collection to Florence.

The Pope personally supported the start of construction of the Library.  The works were commissioned by Michelangelo Buonarroti.

It wasn't until 1558 when Michelangelo was in Rome that he provided the clay model design of the tripartite staircase which solved the problem of connecting the vestibule to the reading room.

The project was completed in 1571, the same year in which the library was open to the public.

The monumental staircase of elliptical shape in the hall is proceeded by columns that add to its impressive appearance.  The white plaster contrasts with the gray stonework of the triangular pediments and windows with Czech stone frames and provides great sculptural value to Michelangelo's work, which in addition to alleviating the structural mass, also creates unparalleled harmony in the lines and in the eyes of the observer.

At the top of the staircase there is a long hallway with windows and wooden benches designed by Michelangelo.  This hallway leads to the reading room.
Michelangelo's wooden benches were the storage place for the ancient illustrated manuscripts, which were placed horizontally in the lower shelves but were easily accessible even if they were chained to these shelves.

Michelangelo's drawings were carved into the lime wood ceilings by Giovanni Battista del Tasso in 1550. It's possible to see emblems of Cosimo I in the ceiling squares.

Flemish masters, using the theme of the Medici heraldry, created stained glass windows which were
designed by Giorgio Vasari.

The floor with red and white clay inlays recaptures the carvings in the ceiling and follows Tribolo's project, who had been given direct indications and instructions for the work space from Michelangelo.

The library which was also once at Villa Medici at Cafaggiolo was moved to house this collection. Also the Council Florentino Cards of 1439 and the very famous Pandects of Justinian, a collection of Roman Laws inspired by Justinian the Byzantine Emperor in contrast to the laws of barbaric origin from the Middle Ages are all part of this collection.  These laws are now the basis of Common European Law.

Among the various literary treasures that are found in the Laurentian Library, the Amiatina Bible (VII-VIII century) (link) is one that stands out the most.  It is the oldest, most complete manuscript of the Bible called the Vulgate ("edition for the people"), translated from ancient Greek to Hebrew personally by St. Jerome (Grandior Codex) copied and kept by the scribes of the Calabian monastery of Vivarium guided by the erudite abbot, Cassiodorus.

The Amiatina Bible (VII-VIII century), with its rare examples of Italo-Saxon miniatures is the oldest copy of the manuscript preserved in its entirety.  The Latin version, written by St. Jerome, is believed to be the most faithful copy.

Scalinata Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana

The three copies were started in 692 and took many years to complete. These works were started by  Ceolfrith, abbot of Wearmouth in the kingdom of Northumbria.  The original, purchased in Rome, was probably the Code of Vulgate in the antiquated version modified personally by St. Jerome, and perhaps the codex Grandior was produced in the sixth century in the Calabrian monastery of Vivarium at the behest of scholar abbot Cassiodorus.  To ensure the commitment to the realization of the works, the monastery secured the rights to additional land, in order to raise the 2000 heads of cattle needed to obtain the required quantity of parchment.

The two copies remaining in England are in fragmentary form, while the copy that was returned to Italy is intact.  At the time, Abbot Ceolfrith was getting on in his years, and he set off in the direction of Rome carrying the tome as a gift for Pope Gregory II.  Ceolfrith died while travelling in today's Burgundy region and the Bible disappeared, only to reappear about a century later in the Abbey of San Salvatore, where it remained for nearly a thousand years.  This was when it acquired the name Amiatinus Codex.  At the museum of the San Salvatore Abbey you can see a recent copy of the work.

The Amiatinus Codex was used for the preparation of the Sixto-Clementine edition of the Vulgate.  In fact, the verse of the second guard sheet is attached to a scroll bearing the following handwritten note: «This Bible A of July 12, 1587 was brought to the illustrious Card.  Antonio Carafa for the work of the emendation of the Latin Vulgate Bible for the order of his holiness Sixto V in Rome was returned on January 19, 1592 to Reverend Fathers D. Marcello Vanni and D. Stefano Bizzotti, monks of the St. Saviour Monastery in Montamiata. Signed, "Io Arturo de' conti d'Elci"».

The abbey of San Salvatore was suppressed by the Grand Duke of Tuscany and Holy Roman Emperor, Leopold II.  In 1786 the Amiatinus Codex was transferred to the Laurentian Library in Florence.  Today it is preserved in the Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana and is considered one of its most important treasures.



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