August 06: Biblioteca Magnificenza

2016/08/06 § Leave a comment

During this month in 1524 work began on the Laurentian Library in Florence.

The library was just an addition to an older complex of buildings: a skinny hall perched on top of a wing on one side of the cloister adjacent to San Lorenzo basilica.  It was paid for by Clement VII who, as a Medici, had some interest in ornamenting his home town.  For its design he turned to Michelangelo, who had already established himself as a family favorite with little lawn decorations like this one, which he knocked out at the age of twenty-six.  His design for the roof of the church where Clement worked was still two decades in the future, but even in the 1520s he was a formidable sculptor and architect.

The library itself is a stately hall, a light box where the interior architecture reflects and reinforces the plan and placement of the reading desks, also of Michelangelo’s design.  It’s good enough to earn a place in the history books, but the entrance to the library that is the real show-stopper.  Any normal architect would have swiftly brought the readers in from the courtyard into an efficient space with a simple flight of stairs that would take them up to the reading room.  But Michelangelo was no normal architect, and his design is the ne plus ultra of stairwells.  It’s a compact, but very tall space, stuffed with a cascade of elegant steps and lined with the materials (plaster and pietra serena) that Brunelleschi had introduced in San Lorenzo (and at the nearby Ospedale degli Innocenti) as the palette for Renaissance Florence.  Although many of the architectural elements are identifiable by name–brackets, columns, pilasters, tabernacle windows–none of them are used in a conventional manner.  It is one of the glories of Michelangelo, and the Classical tradition in his hands, to see the innovative articulation of the established, but flexible, vocabulary of the Ancients.

Image: in the stair hall, looking up (from this source)

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