Laurentian Library in Florence

Laurentian Library in Florence
02 November 2016 0 Comment

Describe a Genius.

Perhaps it’s enough to say a genius is a person who displays exceptional intellectual ability, creative productivity typically to a degree that is associated with the achievement of new advances in a domain of knowledge. Despite the presence of scholars in many subjects throughout history, many geniuses have shown high achievements only in a single kind of activity. And yet the architect here was a great sculptor, a painter whose works inspired generations of artists, and whose sonnets and poems turned many a head; his name of course is Michelangelo.

When and Why was this Library Built?

The Laurentian Library was commissioned in 1523 under the patronage of the Medici pope, Clement VII and construction began in 1525. Built in a cloister of the Medicean Basilica di San Lorenzo, it was created to show the world that the Medici family was no longer a collection of mere merchants but members of the intelligent and ecclesiastical society of Florence. Michelangelo left Florence in 1534, when only the walls of the reading room were complete. Work continued with a carefully selected and talented group of architects and artisans chosen by Michelangelo himself; headed by Tribolo, Vasari, and Ammannati. They meticulously followed Michelangelo’s detailed plans and his verbal instructions and finally the library opened in 1571.

The magnificent Medici collection of more than 11,000 manuscripts and 4,500 early printed books were carefully removed from the library of San Marco to their new home in the San Lorenzo library.

Why is this Library Considered an Architectural Masterpiece?

Because of what Michelangelo did with space. Upon arriving at the Laurentian Library vestibule the unwary visitor steps into an expansive and impressive volume of vertical space. The master is teasing your minds and concept of spaces when on the shoulders of peculiarly anthropomorphic consoles, paired monolithic columns soar to meet sections of broken entablature. The overblown scale of the famous stairway, the wall reversal and the gigantic scale of the columns and volutes make this one of the most condensed and rich spaces of the Renaissance.

Some say this space is one of the most extraordinary moments in architecture and contains more architectonic power than most entire buildings. It is a complex design that is almost overwhelming with a balanced series of spatial operations that includes folded space, mirrored space, inside-outside space, layered space, negative space, positive space and warped space that work as one glorious harmonious architectural statement. The Laurentian Library is one of Michelangelo’s most important architectural achievements. Even Michelangelo’s contemporaries realized that the innovations and use of space in the Laurentian Library were revolutionary.

Michelangelo said the central flight of stairs was reserved per il signore, for the grandeur of the Medici. Today, you and I can experience the work of a true genius and in doing so walk in the shoes of un grande principe.

Peter Kilby
About the Author

Peter Kilby is an artist, writer, story-teller, journalist and avid traveller who has lived and worked in Italy since 1987. He created Perfect Traveller to bring the world of art and history closer to you. Download the “free” Perfect Traveller app and enjoy the best audio tours available; about Italy today and yesterday. Sign Up to this website and submit your travel stories and become part of the Perfect Traveller community.

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