Oh, the hidden gems of Florence!
Right next to the famous Palazzo Medici Riccardi sits the Riccardian Library, which I have walked by at least 1000 times and never visited. It is closed to the public, open only to qualified scholars and students.
But, last week I had my chance!
The Riccardian Library and the Palazzo Medici Riccardi are in the heart of Florence. The rear of the Medici palace has a small private garden, whose north side also has an entrance to the library. If you owned both buildings, why not?
The library was established in 1600 by Riccardo Romolo Riccardi, of the prominent Riccardi family.
In 1659, Gabriello and his nephew Francesco Riccardi purchased the famous Medici home and renamed it the Medici-Riccardi Palace. They employed the best architects and artists such as Pietro Tacca, Pier Maria Baldi, and Giovanni Battista Foggini in decorating and restructuring the palace.
Palazzo Medici remained with the family cadets until 28 March 1659, when the Grand Duke Ferdinando II de ‘Medici sold it to the Marquis Gabriello Riccardi for the sum of 40,000 scudi.
Francesco Riccardi began organizing the extensive family collections of artifacts, including Byzantine ivory, jewelry, medals and coins and enlarging the book collection. The armoires to display these collections were decorated with paintings by Anton Domenico Gabbiani, Bartolomeo Bimbi, and Pandolfo Reschi. In 1691, Tommaso and Giuseppe Nasini painted the frescoes depicting the history of Hercules and Jove for a display and catalogue room.
In 1669, Francesco married Cassandra Capponi, and she brought her inherited a large collection of books from her father, Vincenzio Capponi, who had befriended Galileo and his followers, thus acquiring some of the scientific manuscripts. This substantially enlarged the holdings of the library.
In the 18th century, the marchese Gabriello Riccardi (1705-1798) added and reorganized the library to its present state. A subdeacon in the church, he added collections of religious manuscripts.
He purchased in 1742, a large trove of documents of Giovanni Battista Fagiuoli (1660-1742).
In 1748 he added ancient codexes from a monastery.
He bought the library of Giovanni Battista Doni (937 manuscripts), and collections of family documents belonging to the Strozzi, Davanzati, Salvini, Quaratesi, De Ricci families of Florence.
He bought manuscripts and letters of Giovanni Lami including his correspondence with abbot Lorenzo Mehus (1716-1802), the son of the artist Livio Mehus. He bought much of the library of Anton Maria Salvini, Nicodemo Tranchedini, and received a donation of works belonging to Benedetto and Giuseppe Averani.
The collection began expanding into some of the private apartments of the palace. Foggini’s marble portrait of Vicenzio is in the main reading room.
When Gabriello died in 1794, his will decreed that the library and museum be open to the public, through a curator or librarian. However in the turbulent first decades of the 19th century, the family went bankrupt and much of the artwork and artifacts were sold at auction during 1811-1814.
In 1825, the Granducal authorities intervened to prevent the further dispersal of the library and it was converted to a public library, with it first librarian Francesco Fontani. It has maintained some autonomy from the other prominent libraries in Florence: the Marucelliana, the Biblioteca Nazionale, and the Laurenziana. Presently the library is administered by the Accademia della Crusca.
The library is a partner with the World Digital Library.
The library holds a copy of Pliny’s Historia naturalis dating from the 10th century and an autograph manuscript of the Florentine Histories of Niccolò Machiavelli. Also in the library are housed the biblical manuscripts: Minuscule 368, 369, and 370.
In 1682-1685, Luca Giordano was employed to fresco the ceilings of the library with allegories designed by Alessandro Segni.
This miniature of the Riccardian Virgil (Ricc. 492 manuscript), c. 1459, shows the construction phases of the original Medici palace.
The facade on Via Larga, now Via Cavour, had ten round mullioned windows on the first floor and the same number on the second. Banking took place on the ground floor, made of strong stone, covered with rustic ashlar. The first floor, or noble floor, where the family stayed, was the so-called representative floor where parties and receptions were held. The second floor, covered with smooth ashlar, was the floor reserved for private life. The use of degrading ashlar gave the building greater lightness and upward momentum. It was the historic residence of the Medici, lords of Florence, until the first half of the 16th century. In 1539 Cosimo de ‘Medici, the future Grand Duke, celebrated his wedding with Eleonora of Toledo there. The following year the couple left the palace to move to the Palazzo della Signoria.
Here’s how the Riccardiana describes itself in a brochure:
The Riccardiana library is one of the few examples of a patrician library that has remained in the same locations where it was originally established. In the middle of the 17th century, the Riccardi family, who had recently consolidated their rich patrimony, managed to purchase the illustrious palazzo of the Medici family. On that occasion, many changes were made to it, both inside and outside the building.
Among those were the Gallery and the Library, which Luca Giordano decorated with frescos. These 2 sections were conceived of at the same time and designed to function together.
The gallery, which is the better known of the 2, was enriched with painted mirrors and furniture that was meant to serve as museum showcases. The library, on the other hand, was provided with the same shelves for use that can be seen in the reading room today.
Toward the end of the 17th century, Francesco Riccardi founded what is the current Riccardiana library and increased the book collection that his family possessed when it moved into this building.
Cassandra (Francesco’s wife and the daughter of scholar Vincenzio Capponi, a member of Galileo Gailei’s entourage) inherited from her father a rich collection of scientific and philosophical texts, which eventually became part of the “Biblioteca Riccardiana.”
In the 17th century, the Riccardi family started experiencing a series of difficulties and financial setbacks. These affected the library as well, making it necessary to auction it. On that occasion, a related book catalogue, divided by subject, was printed. The same division still applies today to the ancient books preserved in the library.
Shortly afterwards, the collection ran the risk of leaving the city, but the Comune di Firenze bought it in 1813 and sold it to the Italian state 2 years later.
Since then, the Riccardiana has been a public library, despite having already been open to scholars back in time when it belonged to the Riccardi themselves.
The Biblioteca Riccardiana largely consists of manuscripts and old printed books. Still today, most acquisitions are made through antique book dealers.
The main objective is to expand the library’s manuscript collection. Consequetntly, modern books are purchased only inasmuch as they prove necessary to study ancient texts. This consistent policy has made it possible to preserve the library’s original character, so that the Biblioteca Riccardiana still appears in as many respects as possible, as it did in the late 17th c.
Closely linked with the life of the Riccardiana is the Biblioteca Moreniana, which is currently proberty of the “province di Firenze.” Established in 1870, it is attached to the rooms of the Riccardiana. Today these 2 public libraries are partners and operate together.
Here’s pertinent info: