By: James W.P. Campbell
Photo credit: Will Pryce
Some book collectors do not care very much about where they store their books. The English King Henry VIII, had a fine collection of books, but when visitors came to view them they were horrified by the conditions they were stored in, commenting on how they were stacked randomly on the floor and in untidy heaps covering every available surface. Thankfully, since Roman times, if not before, others have cherished books and wished to show them off to their best advantage.
Incredibly, until now, there has been no single volume tracing the history of library buildings through the ages. For the last three years, I have been traveling the world together with Will Pryce the architectural photographer, visiting and photographing 85 of the world’s greatest libraries in 21 countries. The result is The Library: A World History (Chicago University Press), the most complete account of library buildings to date.
It is impossible to show all the magnificent libraries we have seen on our travels, but here are some of our favorite images from the book (all photos taken by Will Pryce).
The Biblioteca Marciana in Venice, Italy
The first-floor entrance lobby to the Biblioteca Marciana (completed in 1564) in Venice is reached by a dramatic and richly decorated staircase from an outside doorway in the center of the grand facade facing the Doge’s Palace. Since 1596 the vestibule has housed the Grimani Collection of sculpture. Beyond is the reading room, one of the finest rooms in Venice. The ceiling roundels were painted by the leading artists of the day. It was originally furnished with 38 long wooden lecterns, 16 down each side of the room, arranged like desks in a school classroom. They displayed the priceless volumes left to Venice by Cardinal Bessarion in 1472, each volume secured to the desk by a long iron chain.
The Library of the Chapter of Noyon Cathedral in France
Libraries have been ravaged by wars and destroyed in fires throughout the ages. We came across these evocative scarred books in the library of the Chapter of Noyon Cathedral in France. Noyon is an unusual survival from the early 16th century– a timber-framed library. Wooden library buildings were probably quite common in the late Middle Ages, but wherever possible when money became available they were rebuilt in stone or brick to reduce the risk of fire. Here it is the effects of war that has caused the damage, the shrapnel from a bomb ripping through the bindings and embedding itself in the exposed pages behind.
The Biblioteca Malatestiana in Cesena, Italy
The Biblioteca Malatestiana in Cesena, near Rimini in Northern Italy is without doubt the best-preserved example of what a late medieval library looked like. Constructed in 1452 for Malatesta Novello, it was designed by the otherwise unknown architect Matteo Nutti. It still contains the books that Malatesta commissioned to be painstakingly copied out by hand. Each has been preserved in its original position, chained to the desks to prevent theft. In libraries such as this one, the readers went to the desk where the book was situated rather than requesting for the books to be brought to them. The brick vaults, covered in green painted plaster, were designed to resist fire. Continue reading Around the World: 14 Beautiful Libraries [Photos]