WALKS IN FLORENCE: CHURCHES, STREETS AND PALACES
SUSAN AND JOANNA HORNER
Chapter IX: San Lorenzo (Continuation) - Laurentian Library
Immediately beyond the door leading from the church into the cloister is a marble monument to Paolo Giovio, the historian, by Françesco di San Gallo. Paolo Giovio was born at Como in 1483; he spent many years at Rome during the pontificates of Leo X., Adrian VI., and Clement VII., occupied with literary pursuits. Having lost all he possessed in the sack of Rome by the imperialist army in 1527, Paolo Giovio was reduced to destitution; but Clement VII., taking compassion on him, presented him, as an indemnification for his misfortunes, with the bishopric of Nocera; he ultimately recovered his fortune, and became so wealthy that he built himself a villa near the shores of the Lake of Como, on the ruins of that which had belonged to Pliny the Younger. When on a visit to the Grand-Duke Cosimo I., in 1552, he was seized with gout, and died in Florence. Françesco di San Gallo has represented the bishop seated in his episcopal robes; his right hand and foot rest on books. The statue is evidently a portrait, and expresses the gaiety and good-humour for which Giovio was renowned, which made him a favourite with the popes, as well as a welcome guest at the various courts of Italy.
The Cloister is very beautiful and extremely picturesque. It was built after a design of Brunelleschi, and is enclosed by a double tier of Greek-Ionic marble columns, the lowest of which supports a succession of graceful arches, and the upper, the roof. The windows opening on this cloister are all protected by iron gratings which project in a curve below; a form invented by Michael Angelo, and called in Italian inginocchiati, "kneeling." An inner cloister of smaller dimensions appears to be of an older date: the columns are octagonal, and have simple capitals. These cloisters afford an asylum for homeless cats, a curious old custom, which likewise prevailed in Egypt in the 13th century. All who cannot support their cats are at liberty to bring them to the cloister of San Lorenzo to be fed and kindly treated, and those in want of such an animal may have a choice in the number infesting these precincts.81
The whole length of the western side of the upper gallery of both cloisters is overlooked by the windows of the Laurentian Library, a magnificent room built by order of Clement VII., after a design by Michael Angelo, for the reception of the Medicean Collection, which the pope presented to the canons of San Lorenzo. The hall is above one hundred and sixty-eight feet long, and high in proportion. The fifteen windows are of coloured glass, designed by Françesco Salviati, a pupil of Guglielmo Marcilla.82 The wooden ceiling and the eighty-eight cabinets containing the MSS., ranged in desks and benches down the whole length of the room, are beautifully carved by Tassi; they contain the oldest part of the collection, and the MSS. within are still classified as by the first librarians under the Medici - Baccio Valori, and Giovanni Rondinelli. The floor of this room is in terra-cotta designed by Triboli, a pupil of Sansovino, and has lately been admirably restored by the brothers Rustici of Viareggio. An octagon room, recently added on one side of this beautiful hall, contains the library of printed books bequeathed to the state in 1818 by Count Angiolo d' Elci, and chiefly consists of Aldine editions of the classics.
The Laurentian Library owes its origin to Cosimo Vecchio, who had collected a large number of MSS. in his palace in the Via Larga. On the death of one Nicolò Niccoli (1439), a man of great literary attainments, Cosimo purchased his valuable library of six hundred MSS., four hundred and fifty of which he presented to the Convent of St. Mark, where he built a noble room for their reception. Nearly the whole collection, with the additions procured by Cosimo from other convents, became ultimately the property of the Laurenziana, to which were likewise added the MSS. collected by Piero de' Medici and by Lorenzo the Magnificent. The learned Greeks who visited Florence during the council held here by Pope Eugenius IV. for the reconciliation of the Greek and Latin Churches, and again others who fled from Constantinople after its conquest by Mahomet II. in 1454, afforded opportunities to Cosimo for the enrichment of his collection, and Lorenzo sent the accomplished Greek, Lascaris, twice to search for MSS. in his own country. When the family of Medici was exiled from Florence, in 1436, their library was confiscated to the State, and Phillipe de Commines suggested to Charles VIII. Of France to demand it as a pledge of good faith from the Florentines; but the friars of St. Marco, instigated by Savonarola, disposed of some of their land, and borrowed 2,000 gold florins to purchase the library and preserve it for their city. In 1498, after the execution of Savonarola, the MSS. were seized by the government; but they were restored in 1500. The debts of the monastery had, however, accumulated, and in 1508 the friars were obliged to sell the whole collection, which was bought by the great-grandson of Cosimo, Cardinal Giovanni de' Medici (Leo X.), for his private palace in Rome. In 1523, Clement VII., whilst still a cardinal, commissioned Michael Angelo to build the Laurentian Library, which was completed in 1527; and in May of that year the pope sent the collection of MSS. from the Medici Palace in Rome to Florence, and bestowed them on the Laurenziana. The Library was thrown open to the public in 1571 by the Grand-Duke Cosimo I., who ordered Giorgio Vasari to construct the staircase at the entrance. The collection was nearly doubled in the latter half of the last century by the addition of MSS. and Mass-books from several churches in Florence which had been suppressed during the French government. The number of MSS. in the Laurenziana amounts now to seven thousand, including many from the Gaddiana, Strozziana, Lotharingian, and Palatine Libraries, besides various Oriental documents. Among the printed books are the first copies thrown off from various works, such as the bible of the Monastery of Mount Sinai, presented by the Czar Alexander II.
The most valuable MSS. here comprise a Syriac Gospel, A.D. 556, with illuminations representing scenes from the Old and new Testaments; a copy of the Old Testament of the eleventh century; two copies of Homer, one of Sophocles; and one of the Eschylus, likewise of the eleventh century; a fine copy of Virgil, belonging to the fifth century, which is among the most important documents in the collection; a copy on parchment of the first five books of Tacitus, found in Germany, and written in the twelfth century, with the Letters of Cicero to Atticus of the same period, and copies of both transcribed by Petrarch in the fourteenth. There are, besides, original letters of Petrarch, as well as his portrait and that of Laura, painted on vellum, though the authenticity of the likenesses has been disputed. There are about a hundred MSS. - versions of Dante's Divina Commedia, the autobiography of Benvenuto Cellini in his own handwriting; the letters of Vittorio Alfieri; and the works of the modern poet Niccolini, whose brain is preserved here under glass; besides the music of fifteen Florentine composers, with their portraits in miniature, formerly the property of the organist Squarcialupo, whose monument is in the Cathedral, and who presented the MSS. to his friend Lorenzo the Magnificent. This history of the ancient Florentine Dyers in Silk, with numerous coloured illustrations, representing men and women engaged in their trade, and dressed in the costume of the period, is a valuable record of this most important source of the wealth and greatness of the city.
Among the rich collection of illuminated Bibles and Prayer-Books of the Church are - a Gospel, with thirty-seven miniatures by Filippo Torelli, a Florentine of the middle of the fifteenth century; a Lezionario, or Lessons, illustrated by Bartolommeo and Giovanni d' Antonio, Florentines, in the year 1446;83 a Missal on fine parchment, presented by the guild of Wool to the canons of the Cathedral, with beautiful miniatures by Gherardo da Monte, the most celebrated miniature painter of the fifteenth century, who studied and imitated the manner of the Germans and Flemings, of Albert D?rer, Van Eyck, and Hemmling; two Diurni, or Day Services, which belonged to the suppressed Monastery of the Angeli in Florence, illustrated by Attavante degli Attavanti and by Boccardini, both already mentioned as celebrated artists in miniature; and four magnificent Antiphonies painted by several hands. The Annunciation in one of these is beautiful beyond description in drawing, colour, and expression; perhaps the finest representation of the subject in existence. The Madonna is seated; her book has fallen into her lap; her meek and lovely countenance, with the graceful bend of her figure, are given with the beautiful simplicity of an early period of art united with the correct drawing and grandeur of form belonging to a later age. The kneeling angel is full of majesty, and his parted lips appear to utter the words, "Hail! Thou that are highly favoured." A lovely landscape is seen through an archway; the colouring is pure, bright, and harmonious. This exquisite little picture is the work of Françesco d' Antonio, who not only painted in the Antiphonies of the Cathedral to which this belonged, but who executed most of the miniatures in the choral books of San Lorenzo. He finished this painting on the 20th of June, 1471, as is recorded in the inscription below, with the names of those at whose expense he worked.84
One of the most precious MSS. in this collection is
the pandects of Justinian, a large quarto volume, which was
discovered at Amalfi (1137), when the Pisan fleet, auxiliaries
of the Emperor Lothaire II. in a war with Roger the Norman,
captured the town. This solitary copy had long been
supposed lost, and it was therefore counted among the greatest
treasures taken by the Florentines from the Pisans in 1406,
and was jealously guarded in the Chapel of St. Bernard in the
Palazzo Vecchio. Pope Leo X. robbed the Signory of the
Pandects to bestow them upon his nephew, Lorenzo, Duke of
Urbino. It was only restored to Florence, and consigned
to the Laurentian Library, in 1786. For some time this
document was supposed to be one of two authentic copies sent
to Italy during the lifetime of the Emperor Justinian; but
this opinion is now abandoned, and it is considered a copy by
Greek scribes, but not later than the sixth or the beginning
of the seventh century. It is by no means improbable
that it was the sole authentic source whence the text of all
other copies existed in MSS., and of all the printed versions,
have been taken.
Flavius Aricius Justinianus the Great, Emperor of Constantinople and Rome A.D. 527-565, notwithstanding internal rebellions, and wars with the Vandals and Goths, accomplished his great scheme of compiling a new code of laws for the empire. The intention of Justinian was to form a complete system of legislation for the whole of his dominions. He was assisted by his minister Tribonian, who was not only a learned jurist, but possessed a library of rare and valuable works on law. Gibbon speaks of him in the following terms: - "His genius, like that of Bacon, embraced as its own all the business and knowledge of the age." By order of the emperor the work was to be perfectly clear and without abbreviations or contractions. It bore the name Digesta or Pandectæ (a book containing everything). The work was finished in little more than three years, and obtained the authority of law A.D. 533. Justinian directed that a list of the names of the authors consulted and of their writings should be prefixed to the Pandects, and this list, though probably a copy like the rest of the MSS., is found in the beginning of the Florentine document, thence called the Florentine Index.
Suspended against the wall of the room is another interesting document - the original parchment containing the agreement between the Latin and Greek Churches at the council presided over by Pope Eugenius IV. in 1439, and bearing the signatures of the pontiff and of the Emperor Paleologus.
Alexander de' Medici, Duke, murdered 1537
Clement VII., Pope, died 1534
Leo X., Pope, died 1523
Paolo Giovio died 1532
Champfleury, "Les Chats, Histoire, Murs, Observations," p.
82 See Bargello, part ii. p. 248, and "Life of Michael Angelo," by Charles Heath Wilson, p. 306.
83 See Vasari's "Lives of the Painters," vol. vi. Pp. 164, 246.
84 Vasari's "Lives of the Painters," vol. vi. P. 258. The visitor to the Laurentian Library is advised to take with him the sixth volume of Vasari's work, where he will find a catalogue of the illuminated works, p. 243.
Chapter X: The Ghetto - Mercato Vecchio
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