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Main collections

The Library holds around 11,000 manuscripts, 2,500 papyri, 43 ostraka, 566 incunabula, 1,681 sixteenth century printed books, 592 periodicals on related subjects and a total of 126,527 books dating from the seventeenth to the twentieth century. Certainly the collections are not outstanding from a numerical point of view, if compared with those belonging to other Italian or foreign libraries. Nevertheless, their truly exceptional character can be attributed to the fact that the manuscripts and books which compose them have been chosen for their age, textual worth and beauty.

Medici binding. Firenze, Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana, Plut. 69.18 (front cover)


The core collection consists of approximately 3.000 manuscripts and books which, rebound in red leather with the Medici arms, were arranged on the Library’s benches in 1571 when the Laurenziana was first opened to the public. These items are listed in the catalogue compiled by Giovanni Rondinelli and Baccio Valori in 1589. The codices belonged to the private Medici collection, whose core can be recognized in the 63 books owned by Cosimo il Vecchio in 1417/1418 which by the time of his death (1464) had already reached 150. His sons Piero (1416-1469) and Giovanni (1421-1463) vied with each other in commissioning illuminated manuscripts. A great number of Greek codices were acquired by Lorenzo il Magnifico, son of Piero (1449-1492), who also gave a new asset to the family collection when, starting from the 80’s, he ordered copies of all texts lacking in the Library. His aim, of course, was to transform the Medici library into an exhaustive centre of research.. Amongst Cosimo’s great grandsons, Piero (1472-1504) followed Lorenzo’s steps till the expulsion of the Medici (1494), whilst Giovanni (1475-1521)distinguished himself by his love of books, having owned codices since his youth. Giovanni, who was elected Pope in 1513 and took the name of Leo X, recovered the family library from the Dominicans of San Marco, who had bought th

e books from the Signoria, and had it transferred to the family palace in Rome, Palazzo Madama at Sant’Eustachio (1508). Only under another Medici Pope, Clement VII (Giulio de’Medici, cousin of Giuliano) was it possible to organize the return of the collection to Florence and the building of the Library. Other Humanistic libraries were added to this collection, such as those of Francesco Sassetti and Francesco Filelfo as well as the manuscripts copied for or bought by Leo X during his stay in Rome. Some of the most precious exemplars of this holding were acquired, instead, from the library of the Dominican convent of S. Marco.


The 'Historia destructionis Troiae' by Guido delle Colonne (15th cent.) in vernacular. Firenze, Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana

Medicei Palatini

As the Palatine Electress and last descendant of the Medici family, Anna Maria Luisa, had been excluded from the line of succession to the Grand Duchy because of her gender, in 1737 the title was appointed to Francesco Stefano of Lorraine, husband of Maria Teresa of Austria, Empress in 1745. The ‘Historia destructionis Troiae’ by Guido delle Colonne (15th cent.) in vernacular. Firenze, Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana Continuing the family tradition, the Palatine Electress transferred all the Medici art and book collections to the new ruling dynasty on the understanding that these treasures were kept in Florence and with a public function, as we would say today. Francesco Stefano added his own private collection coming from the family residence at Lunèville to the Medici library already existing at Palazzo Pitti . The Palatine library was opened to the public in 1765. Owing to the scarce number of readers, his successor Pietro Leopoldo closed the library in 1771 and assigned its manuscripts and books to the Biblioteca Magliabechiana. In 1783 some of these manuscripts (181) were transferred to the Laurenziana, possibly to compensate for the 281 printed editions that the Library had been ordered to give to the Magliabechiana. The holding, also known as the Fondo Mediceo Palatino Lorenese, has been increased by further splendid donations by the Grand Dukes.


Private and ecclesiastical collections

Between 1755 and 1789 many libraries belonging to private families and religious houses entered the Laurenziana, due also to the shrewd planning of the Librarian Angelo Maria Bandini, in office from 1757 to 1803. The heirs of various declining noble Florentine families were forced to sell their collections: in 1755 Emperor Francesco I bought the library belonging to the Gaddi family (already catalogued by Giovanni Targioni) which comprised more than 1,000 manuscripts collected during the previous four centuries. It was divided between the Archivio delle Reformagioni, the Laurenziana and the Magliabechiana although Bandini had suggested giving the whole collection to the newly opened Biblioteca Marucelliana.

Wax seal bearing the Alfieri family arms. Firenze. Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana, Alfieri 13, f. 132r.

The expropriation of the codices belonging to S. Maria del Fiore, where they had been subject to various thefts and fire, was however radical and definitive. In 1778 the manuscripts were transferred to the Laurenziana where the holding took the name of Edili, a scholarly translation of the word operaio, the magistrate in charge of the Fabbrica di S. Maria del Fiore. Liturgical codices and four illuminated Antiphonaries also entered the holding.

The same year, as a consequence of the suppression of the Regular Lateran Canons in Fiesole, the Laurenziana acquired six manuscripts from their library (other 123 came from the Magliabechiana in 1783). After the Cistercians at San Salvatore on Mount Amiata were suppressed as well, the Codex Amiatinus made its entrance into the Library (1785), after a brief stay at the Florentine Seminary of S. Frediano del Cestello, the actual Seminario Maggiore. In 1789, instead, the Library bought seventeen manuscripts from the Franciscan friars of Bosco in Mugello where Cosimo il Vecchio and Lorenzo il Magnifico had housed a truely splendid library in their villa at Cafaggiolo.


Regal Chronicle' by Firdeusi (1582). Firenze, Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana, Or. 5, f. 14v.


In 1584 Cardinal Ferdinando de’ Medici (1549-1608, Great Duke of Tuscany since 1587) founded in Rome the so-called Stamperia Orientale Medicea in order to promote the edition of books inspired by the principles of the Council of Trent, viz. texts that could be of some use in the preaching of Catholicism among Muslims and the refutation of Eastern rite Christian faiths. For this reason, the Cardinal subsidized the purchase of many manuscripts in Hebrew, Persian, Arab, Turkish, Syriac and Coptic containing grammars, lexicons, sacred texts, scientific and philosophical works in order to have them printed. After being kept in Roma and elsewhere, in 1684 the Oriental collection arrived in Florence where it was distributed between the Laurenziana and the Medici Palatine library. This division was sanctioned later on, in 1771, when the Palatine library was closed: part of its Oriental collection was assigned to the Laurenziana, the rest to the Magliabechiana


Sacramentary from Camaldoli (12th cent.). Firenze, Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana, Conv. soppr. 292, f. 13v.

Conventi Sopressi

Like other Florentine Libraries the Laurenziana received many of the manuscripts coming from those religious houses which had been banished by the edict pronounced in 1808 by Napoleon. In particular, the Commissione degli oggetti d’arte e scienza chose for the Library a total of 631 Greek, Latin and Oriental, illuminated and parchment exemplars coming from Badia Fiorentina, S. Maria Novella, S. Maria degli Angeli, SS. Annunziata, S. Spirito, S. Maria del carmine, Ognissanti and Vallombrosa


San Marco

Descrizioni online

Amongst the various convent libraries in the Laurenziana the holding coming from San Marco is certainly one of the most noteworthy: it is, in fact, part of the library that Cosimo il Vecchio had founded in the Dominican Convent of S. Marco, with manuscripts mostly belonging to Niccolò Niccoli’s collection of classical and patristic works but also to Poggio Bracciolini, Lorenzo and Vespasiano da Bisticci as well as Giorgio Antonio Vespucci. After losing some of its most prized manuscripts when Cosimo I had them confiscated and transferred to the Laurenziana in the second half of the sixteenth century (before 1571), S.Marco survived intact during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. In 1809, instead, as a consequence of the suppression of religious houses ordered by Napoleon (1808) 357 manuscripts of its library entered the Laurenziana. Another 357 codices from S. Marco made their entrance in the Laurenziana in 1883 by the good offices of the Abbot Niccolò Anziani, Director of the Laurenziana.


Wax seal bearing the Alfieri family arms. Firenze. Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana, Alfieri 13, f. 132r.


His holding comprising 39 manuscripts, partly autographs of Vittorio Alfieri, two folders containing Wax seal bearing the Alfieri family arms. Firenze. Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana, Alfieri 13, f. 132r.papers and documents as well as 15 books belonging to the poet and bearing his notes, was donated to the Library in March 1824 by François-Xavier Pascal Fabre, the universal heir of Luisa Stolberg, Countess of Albany, who had died two months before having herself inherited the whole of Alfieri’s estate. Fabre was a collector and a quite well known painter and had often portrayed Alfieri and the Countess. He bequeathed his art collection and Vittorio Alfieri’s library to Montpellier, his hometown. The pictures are kept at the Museum still bearing his name, whilst Alfieri’s library is now at the local Bibliothèque Municipale.


Raccolta completa di Orazio (in 8°). Aldo Manuzio, Venezia 1501. Firenze, Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana D'Elci 516 c. K.


The d’Elci collection, comprising 1,213 first editions of Greek and Latin classics as well as the earliest exemplars printed by Aldo Manuzio, entered the Laurenziana in 1841 on the occasion of the 2nd Conference of Italian Scientists in Florence. In effect, the Florentine bibliophile Angelo Maria d’Elci had officially donated his collection to the Library as early as 1818, but he did not part from the library till his death, which occurred in 1824 in Vienna where he had the books rebound according to contemporary taste. After d’Elci’s death his books were taken care of by Giovanni degli Alessandri, Director of the RR. Gallerie and President of the Accademia di Belle Arti, in Florence: on behalf of his collector friend, Alessandri had the last volumes rebound and followed the various phases of the building of the Rotunda planned by Pasquale Poccianti in order to host the collection at the side of Michelangelo’s monumental library. Whilst the collection was kept by Alessandri, it was catalogued by Canon Francesco Grazzini. The Catalogue was published in Florence in 1826, anonymously, by the Tipografia all’insegna di Dante Similarly, eight manuscripts containing works and notes by D’Elci as well as his correspondence have been donated by Alessandri and the D’Elci heirs to the Laurenziana.


French miscellany containing 'Le trésor' by Brunetto Latini' (13th/14th cent.). Firenze, Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana, Ashb. 125, f. 60r.


The holding consists of approximately 2,000 manuscripts once belonging to the mathematician and bibliophile Guglielmo Libri (1802-1869) who sold them in 1847 to Lord Bertram, fourth Count of Ashburnham. After the latter died in 1878, the Italian government bought the library and gave it to the Laurenziana in 1884. Most Ashburnham exemplars can be dated well before the eighteenth century and are often of Italian origin. Some of these codices had been stolen by Libri from various libraries in Italy and elsewhere.


Alfieri di Sostegno

The collection of editions printed by Elzevir gathered by the scholar and bibliophile Cesare Alfieri di Sostegno (Turin 1799- Florence 1869) was donated to the Laurenziana in 1920 by wish of his descendants . The purpose of the donation was to reunite this collection, at least in theory, to the books belonging to the poet Vittorio Alfieri, who came from another line of the same family. The holding comprises 1278 exemplars, each bearing on the front pastedown the ex-libris with the family crest and motto Hostili tincta cruore.The books are also embellished by splendid bindings, many of which are signed and have been made in France whilst Cesare Alfieri di Sostegno lived there between 1814 and 1828. Currently the holding is undergoing a cataloguing process derived from the OCLC database.




The Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana has the luck and privilege of conserving one of the most important and precious collections of Greek and Latin papyri from Eygpt. Indeed,386 out of the 391 so –called Florentine papyri (PFlor.I;II;III) and around two thirds of the 1452 Papyri of the Italian Society (PSI),are to be found. Along with these two groups of papyri, the Laurenziana from 1976 has also placed editions of Papyri Laurenziani volumes (PLaur.). The Scuola Papirologica Fiorentina (the Florentine Papirological School),of G.Vitelli and M.Norsa has always been particularly interested in literary texts which now are included in this on line catalogue

Ministero della Cultura   Direzione Generale Biblioteche e Diritto d'Autore Link al sito unabibliotecaunlibro Internet Culturale. Cataloghi e collezioni digitali delle biblioteche italiane Cultura Italia, un patrimonio da esplorare

Copyright © Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana Firenze 2001 – 2021 – Ultimo aggiornamento: 19/04/2021
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