(b. 1475, Caprese, d. 1564, Roma)

Interior view

Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana, Florence

When Cardinal Giulio was elected to the papacy in November 1523, he commissioned Michelangelo to design at San Lorenzo a public library, the Biblioteca Laurenziana, to house the library of his uncle Lorenzo the Magnificent. The result was one of the most beautiful and coherent interior spaces in Western architecture (the reading room) and a vestibule that continues to inspire both controversy and artistic emulation.

After various sites had been considered, it was decided to build the library above the west range of the canons' cloister, with an entrance on the upper level. The reading room, complete with its stone membering, was built in 1525, followed by the lower levels of the entrance vestibule. As at the New Sacristy, building was interrupted by the Medici expulsion from Florence in 1527 and the siege of 1529–30. After a flurry of activity in 1533, Michelangelo departed for Rome, leaving the work unfinished. Under Grand Duke Cosimo I, most of the missing pieces were filled in, Niccolò Tribolo and Santi Buglioni making the floor of the reading room (1549–53), Bartolomeo Ammanati building the staircase (1559–62) in consultation with Michelangelo and Vasari supervising the completion of the desks and ceiling.

The horizontally of the long reading room is unexpected after the verticality of the vestibule. At first sight the room looks more conventional than the vestibule. However, the disturbing aspect of the room is that it has no reasonable focus or terminus. Pilasters, ceiling beams, and floor patterns produce a continuous cage of space in which the reading desks (also designed by Michelangelo) are trapped, two to a bay, and the observer with them. Since each of the bays is identical, the succession could contain two more or three less with no effect on the purely additive composition.

The photo shows the reading room interior, one of Michelangelo's most lucid and rigorous designs.

View the ground plan and section of Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana.