Sunday, 28 October 2012

The Medici Family Libraries...

That was then...

This week I thought it would be good to start my research on the Medici family Libraries in Florence, specifically their beginning. Jumping onto Google and doing a general search for 'The Medici family Library History', you are not exactly bombarded with results to be honest, but one website that I found quite interesting, was the Galileo Project.

Although not containing a lot of information in relation to the actual History of the Medici family Library, it celebrates the life and work of the great friend to the Medici, Galileo Galilei. The website claims its aim is to "Provide  hypertextual information about Galileo and his sciences..." The website gives a great overview on all things Galileo, including a GalileoTimeline, pages on Christianity, Science and a lot of other great information that can help students and the curious alike.

Though there is not a lot about the actual Medici Family library, except for a page which discusses the basic family history and briefly how Galileo was entwined with the family since the age of five, to be honest, the history is almost word for word the same as what is written on most of the other websites I viewed, which I had used to do my previous research.

Back to the drawing board.

Instead of asking google for a history of the library, I asked for the library in General. Wikipedia has a page on the Laurentian Library, which I scanned for 'other pages' and got quite lucky. The wiki external references section gives you a link to the fantastically comprehensive page, The Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana. The page is available in it's native Italian or English. Lucky me!

The reading room - Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana
The Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana is the original research library of the Medici, specialising in the conservation and study of the medicia manuscrips and rare book collections. The website gives you an opportunity to undertake a comprehensive online tour of the Medici Library, gives historical notes, information on their main collections as well as access to their physical collection. The website is so friendly, it even gives you the option to subscribe to their newsletter regarding updates and events!

Anyways, as I am after information regarding the 'beginnings' of the Library, I thought it best to check the Historical notes. The notes tell me that the collection contains nearly 11,000 manuscripts. Some of the treasures listed are such amazing manuscripts by Tacitus, Pliny, Aeschylus, Sophocles, Quintilian, the codex of Vergil, and the oldest extant copy of Justinian's Corpus Iuris, copied just after its promulgation.

The collection also boosts one of the three complete collections of Plato's Dialogi, the Squarcialupi codex (alleged the only existing source for the study of profane music between the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries),  autographs of Petrarch and Boccaccio, the Storie by Guicciardini (including notes by the author) as well as the autographed biography of Benvenuto Cellini.

The History notes also discuss the opening of the Library to the general public by Cosimo de'Medici in 1571,  in a setting that was planned by the great Michelangelo. It doesn't tell much about the why, but it talks about how in the beginning the volumes of the private library were rebound in red leather, marked with the Medici Arms and chained to benches.

Sample of 'Medici Binding'
Looking at the 'Collections' tab, I was suprised and happy to see that the collection includes, in addition to the 11,000 manuscripts previously disclosed: 2,500 papyri, 43 ostraka, 566 incunabula, 1,681 sixteenth century printed books, 592 periodicals on related subjects and a total of 126,527 books dating from the seventeenth to the twentieth century. A very hefty collection if you think that this library began as a private family library.

Overall, I think this website is helpful and comprehensive, I mean, it is the official website for the Medici family Library, so it would have to be. But the biggest issue I had with the website was in my attempt of accessing the Catalogue. This is only accessable in Italian, and I guess I can understand that, as it is in Italy and I wouldn't be able to access the records anyway(yet), but it would be great to peruse the collection titles.

Also, I don't think I was really able to get a comprehensive history on the actual beginnings of the library, but I was happy with what I could find and I am definitely wanting to go and visit the Biblioteca Medicia Laurenziana one day!


Albert Van Helden 1995, the Galileo Project, Rice Edu, viewed 10 October 2012,

Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana 2001-2012, Bibloteca Medicea Laurenziana Index, viewed 10 October 2012,

Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana 2001-2012, photograph the reading room, viewed 10 October 2012,

Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana 2001-2012, photograph of Medici binding, viewed 28 October 2012,

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