Michelangelo as an Interior Designer. Laurentian Library, Reading Room, Florence, Italy – A Review


I’ve just finished a 36 lecture DVD series on The Genius of Michelangelo (2007) by Professor William E. Wallace.  The knowledge was invigorating and had me see Michelangelo in a whole new light.

Michelangelo was a man who, no matter what task presented him, he made each object a product of genius.

A quick historical review ...

At the same time that Michelangelo was working on the Medici Chapel in 1524, Michelangelo was asked by Pope Clement VII to design a library at San Lorenzo, Florence.

Clement's wanted to provide a proper location to preserve the great Medici collection of books and manuscripts.  The library he constructed was situated on the third floor, on top of another part of a cloister that was already in place.


I know who Michelangelo was – but ....

Being of Italian descent, I’ve lived in Italy and have studied many of Michelangelo’s works.  Michelangelo WAS the best of the best that Italy had to offer.

I’ve thought of him as an artist, sculptor and architect but never as an applied Interior Designer.  What has been so obvious and so much in front of me, somehow escaped me.

Within the Laurentian Library interior, he designed the interior and ‘all’ of it’s interior fittings.



Interior of Laurentian Library ...

 I love libraries. To me they represent the world’s bountiful knowledge.  They are sanctuaries of order and quiet, where the physicality of the written word in the form of books, prevails through time and culture.

Today, most of the world’s knowledge is found on the internet, and libraries have now become more community hubs were people meet, accesses the internet and attend speaking events.

The Laurentian Library Reading Room’s layout is simple with two blocks of seats separated by a center aisle with the backs of each serving as desks for the benches behind them. The desks are lit by the evenly spaced windows along the wall. The windows are framed by pilasters, forming a system of bays which articulate the layout of the ceiling and floor.

 The centre isle with a isle way that would lead to a grander room of more antiquated knowledge, unfortunately, was never built.

It’s current flooring consists of an elaborate wood inlay motif.  Beneath it lies the original terra cotta floor panels.

Michelangelo considered a building’s furniture to be an integral  part of its design. The regularly spaced reading desks reiterate the room’s simple geometry.

Desk - Reading - Storage Units

It is the carved walnut desks that attract my attention.  The units are at once a comfortable seat, reading stand and a storage facility for the books underneath.  Each of the books under the desk are identified on tablets at the front exposed side of the desk.  The desk units provide an efficient and private study environment for scholars to study their manuscripts in a magnificent environment.

 The desks are spaced two to a bay, and the measured rhythm of repeating bays creates a harmonious space conducive to quiet reading and study.

The books were chained to the reading seats to prevent stealing which was considered a necessary practice against theft. The reading seats each displayed a list of the books that could be found at each location. The desks were specifically designed by Michelangelo to fit the room and add to its Mannerist style.

The wall articulation depends on, and is coordinated with the furnishings:  the pilasters rise from a stringcourse that runs along at the level of the reading desks.  In this way, the furniture is a necessary part and support for the wall decoration. They are well coordinated with the desks themselves.

In the reading, room, building, furniture, and books – that is, architecture, decoration, and function are all seamlessly integrated.

What’s Happening Now With The Manuscripts?

Presently, the ancient manuscripts are stored in a vault downstairs and the space serves a tourist attraction for those who appreciate architecture and design.

Reader passes can only be issued to scholars who can prove they are conducting scientific research requiring access to manuscripts or rare books.  The Manuscripts are now digitized and available for viewing on-line.

Seeing Michelangelo With Renewed Appreciation

When next in Florence I will surely visit this Library once more.  I will sit, read and learn from the master – rediscovering another layer of this genius.  (I can’t wait.)


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