17 July 2017
Visiting the Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana
Large medieval manuscript libraries are often in delightful locations, and of nowhere is that more true that the Laurenziana. Sited in the centre of Florence, it’s next to (in fact part of) the church of San Lorenzo which was the Medici family’s ‘family’ church – that’s where Cosimo I is buried, close to his friend, the sculptor Donatello. The library has started digitising its manuscripts and putting them online, but there are still plenty that aren’t there yet, giving you the perfect excuse for a visit.
Obviously the normal routine applies: write well in advance (email is fine), preferably in Italian, to check that the library will be open and your manuscript will be available. If you’re a PhD student, you’ll need to bring a letter of recommendation on headed notepaper as well as your passport. If possible, avoid visiting in the high summer since that’s when most of the city’s annual ten million tourists are in town, impeding the intrepid researcher’s access to the ice-cream that makes temperatures in their 30s bearable.
On the day itself, go through the far left door of the San Lorenzo church (the one with the flags above it on the picture above). This leads into a lovely cloister, with an orange tree in the middle and swallows flying overhead.
The library is on the first floor of this cloister, so take the staircase (I didn’t see a lift, so if you need disabled access, check in advance). At the top, you’ll find a door marked “Bibliotheca Laurenziana, Sala di Lettura”. Aha, you think – that was easy. Not so fast! This is the door to the stunning reading room designed by Michelangelo, but unfortunately, the room is no longer no longer in active use for study: you need the Sala di Studio.
So, walk past the rope to the next door, where you’ll find a desk and a friendly person behind it. You’ll need to sign in, and you’ll be given a key for a locker. Then you’ll be ushered to the Sala di Studio itself. Here you’ll need to show your documentation and register properly – a fairly long form, all in Italian, and the staff, while friendly, don’t speak much English, so it’s a good idea to have learned a few basics. Then you can order your manuscript. Mine arrived pretty quickly (less than 10 minutes), which was good because I wasn’t able to connect to the wifi. The room is fairly small – and definitely not designed by Michelangelo – but it’s air-conditioned and light.
In conclusion, then, the Laurenziana is a friendly and relatively informal place to work. And if the manuscripts don’t have what you hoped to find – well, at least you can console yourself with a nice glass of Tuscan Chianti afterwards. Saluti!
By Charles West (@Pseudo_Isidore).
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