The Biblioteca Ambrosiana is a historic library in Milan, Italy, also housing the Pinacoteca Ambrosiana, the Ambrosian art gallery. Named after Ambrose, the patron saint of Milan, it was founded in 1609 by Cardinal Federico Borromeo, whose agents scoured Western Europe and even Greece and Syria for books and manuscripts. Some major acquisitions of complete libraries were the manuscripts of the Benedictine monastery of Bobbio (1606) and the library of the Paduan Vincenzo Pinelli, whose more than 800 manuscripts filled 70 cases when they were sent to Milan and included the famous Iliad, the Ilias Picta.
The Veneranda Biblioteca Ambrosiana, founded by Cardinal Federico Borromeo on September 7, 1607, was one of the first libraries to be opened to the public, thanks to the gesture of an illustrious patron. It was conceived by the founder as a center of study and culture: alongside the original Library -which today holds about a million printed volumes and 40,000 Greek, Latin, Vernacular and other Oriental languages manuscripts- he established also a Pinacoteca (Art Gallery) and a Fine Arts Academy.
In 1618, the Cardinal donated his collection of paintings, drawings, prints and sculptures to the Institution: it is the original core of the Ambrosiana Art Gallery, which would be continuously enhanced in the following four centuries with several masterpieces of Italian and European art. However, he did not conceive of his Gallery as a mere exhibition of works of art, but also as an educational tool: in fact, in 1620 he founded a Fine Arts Academy, for the teaching of painting, sculpture and architecture. The Academy was re-founded in 2008; it is now dedicated to fostering the dialogue between diverse peoples and cultures and is organized into eight Classes for Borromean, Ambrosian, Far Eastern, Italian, Slavic, Near Eastern, Greek and Latin, African Studies.
During Cardinal Borromeo’s sojourns in Rome, 1585–95 and 1597–1601, he envisioned developing this library in Milan as one open to scholars and that would serve as a bulwark of Catholic scholarship in the service of the Counter-Reformation against the treatises issuing from Protestant presses. To house the cardinal’s 15,000 manuscripts and twice that many printed books, construction began in 1603 under designs and direction of Lelio Buzzi and Francesco Maria Richini. When its first reading room, the Sala Fredericiana, opened to the public on 8 December 1609 it was, after the Bodleian Library in Oxford, the second public library in Europe. One innovation was that its books were housed in cases ranged along the walls, rather than chained to reading tables, the latter a medieval practice seen still today in the Laurentian Library of Florence. A printing press was attached to the library, and a school for instruction in the classical languages.
Constant acquisitions, soon augmented by bequests, required enlargement of the space. Borromeo intended an academy (which opened in 1625) and a collection of pictures, for which a new building was initiated in 1611–18 to house the Cardinal’s paintings and drawings, the nucleus of the Pinacoteca.
Cardinal Borromeo gave his collection of paintings and drawings to the library, too. Shortly after the cardinal’s death, his library acquired twelve manuscripts of Leonardo da Vinci, including the Codex Atlanticus. The library now contains some 12,000 drawings by European artists, from the 14th through the 19th centuries, which have come from the collections of a wide range of patrons and artists, academicians, collectors, art dealers, and architects. Prized manuscripts, including the Leonardo codices, were requisitioned by the French during the Napoleonic occupation, and only partly returned after 1815.
On 15 October 1816 the Romantic poet Lord Byron visited the library. He was delighted by the letters between Lucrezia Borgia and Pietro Bembo (“The prettiest love letters in the world”) and claimed to have managed to steal a lock of her hair (“the prettiest and fairest imaginable.”) held on display.
The novelist Mary Shelley visited the library on 14 September 1840 but was disappointed by the tight security occasioned by the recent attempted theft of “some of the relics of Petrarch” housed there.
Among the 30,000 manuscripts, which range from Greek and Latin to Hebrew, Syriac, Arabic, Ethiopian, Turkish and Persian, is the Muratorian fragment, of ca 170 A.D., the earliest example of a Biblical canon and an original copy of De divina proportione by Luca Pacioli. Among Christian and Islamic Arabic manuscripts are treatises on medicine, a unique 11th-century diwan of poets, and the oldest copy of the Kitab Sibawahaihi.
The library has a college of Doctors, similar to the scriptors of the Vatican Library. Among prominent figures have been Giuseppe Ripamonti, Ludovico Antonio Muratori, Giuseppe Antonio Sassi, Cardinal Angelo Mai and, at the beginning of the 20th century, Antonio Maria Ceriani, Achille Ratti (on November 8 1888, the future Pope Pius XI, and Giovanni Mercati. Ratti wrote a new edition of the Acta Ecclesiae Mediolanensis (“Acts of the Church of Milan”), Latin work firstly published by the cardinal Federico Borromeo in 1582<. The building was damaged in World War II, with the loss of the archives of opera libretti of La Scala, but was restored in 1952 and underwent major restorations in 1990–97. Artwork at the Pinacoteca Ambrosiana includes da Vinci's "Portrait of a Musician", Caravaggio's "Basket of Fruit", and Raphael's cartoon of "The School of Athens". Institution In 1604 Cardinal Federico Borromeo entrusted the scientific and cultural activity of the Ambrosiana to a College of Doctors, presided over by a Prefect who, according to the Rules promulgated in 1998 by the Archbishop of Milan, Carlo Maria Martini, is appointed by the Archbishop. The Collegio dei Dottori and the Biblioteca Ambrosiana had a happy fate, supported by wise rules established by the founder, which ensured its continuity by also establishing a Congregation of Conservatories and providing it with adequate resources. The Doctors were originally planned for up to twelve ecclesiastics, flanked by four lay Doctors. Engines of research, teaching and study must have been the members of three Colleges that should have carried out a coordinated action: of Doctors, Professors and Students. The mission and identity of the Ambrosiana was thus traced as a literary, scientific and artistic center of excellence with an interdisciplinary and university character, according to the motto still in force Singuli singula. From the2008, the Cardinal Federico Borromeo Foundation was set up to offer financial support to the ever more numerous Ambrosiana cultural activities, now expanded and enhanced. The library With the opening to the public of the Ambrosian Library, on 8 December 1609, what was born in 1623 when Galileo Galilei wrote to Cardinal Federico and defined " the heroic and immortal library". The original patrimony included about 30,000 prints and 8,000 manuscripts, purchased from all over the world, from the distant lands of Arabia, China, Russia, India and Japan, among the most valuable in the history of culture and science, both Western and Eastern. We can remember among these: the Ilias Picta from the 5th century, formerly owned by Gian Vincenzo Pinelli, the Virgil belonged to Francesco Petrarca containing the Frontispiece of the Commentary by Servius to Virgil illuminated by Simone Martini, the كتاب لاحيوان Kitāb al-Hayawān miniated by Amr b. Bahr al-Giāhiz, the Chinese map by Giulio Aleni《萬國全圖》. The fame of the Ambrosiana attracted other exceptional donations, such as: Leonardo's codes offered by Galeazzo Arconati in 1637, of which twelve are now kept in the National Library of Paris, while the Atlantic Code is preserved in the Ambrosiana, the wonderful Museum of Manfredo Settala. The donations continued over the centuries, allowing in 1909 the acquisition of the 1600 Arab codes of the Caprotti collection, up to the more recent ones of the indologist Enrico Fasana, of the Italo-Chinese Institute Vittorino Colombo and of other Italian and foreign cultural institutions. Since 2009, in the Sala Federiciana dell'Ambrosiana and in the Monumental Sacristy of Bramante at Santa Maria delle Grazie, the series of Exhibitions that - culminating in 2015, the year of the World Expo in Milan - gradually expose the masterpiece of genius in its entirety by Leonardo da Vinci, with more than 2000 drawings collected in the 1119 sheets of the Codex Atlanticus. The pinacoteca Federico Borromeo had been the first supporter and subsequently Patron of the Accademia di San Luca, designed by Pope Gregory XIII in 1577 and inaugurated in Rome by Federico Zuccari in 1593. Having arrived in Milan in 1595 as an archbishop, he planned to found an artistic academy there, equal to those of Florence and Rome. Among the many mentors of the cardinal's program were Giusto Lipsio, professor in Louvain, Ericio Puteano, professor at the Palatine Schools of Milan and, among the artists, the Brueghel and the Brill brothers. In 1618 Federico donated his collection of paintings and drawings to the Ambrosiana, thus constituting the initial nucleus of the Pinacoteca, with works by Raphael, Caravaggio, Leonardo, Tiziano, Bernardino Luini. The foundation of the Academy of design, painting, sculpture and architecture took place on June 25th 1620, with the appointment of the three masters Giovanni Battista Crespi known as il Cerano, Gian Andrea Biffi and Fabio Mangone, directors respectively for painting, sculpture and architecture; the first students were nine in number. Today the Pinacoteca includes 24 rooms and allows to admire about 300 masterpieces of the greatest Italian and European artists , with a multi-year plan of exhibitions also abroad, including the one in Tokyo in April-June 2013. (see 2013/6 Newsletter) The academy Academic research has become more intense with the foundation, in 1963, of the Accademia di S. Carlo Borromeo by Archbishop Cardinal Giovanni Battista Montini, then Pope Paul VI; in 1976 Cardinal Giovanni Colombo with new statute entrusted the direction to Monsignor Carlo Marcora, doctor of the Ambrosiana. After a further renewal of the statute intended by Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini in 1994, in 2003 the Academy of Sant'Ambrogio was founded, both merged in 2008 by the Archbishop of Milan Cardinal Dionigi Tettamanziin a single Ambrosian Academy with 7 classes of studies: Borroma, Ambrosian, Greek and Latin, Italian, Slavic, on the Near East and on the Far East. These last two classes comprise 7 sections of Arabic, Armenian, Hebrew and Syriac studies and, in East Asia, studies on the different cultures of the area, in particular Chinese, Japanese and Indian. The connection between the Academy and the College is ensured by the appointment of the director of each class, chosen from among the doctors of the College. About 250 university professors from all over the world are now members of the Academy, assisted by 14 academic secretaries. Each class publishes its own series of miscellaneous volumes with essays and specific research, while monographs of general interest for the entire Academy are published in the series of Sources and Studies. House Museum Ludwig Pogliaghi The museum house of Lodovico Pogliaghi belongs to the Veneranda Biblioteca Ambrosiana, for the testamentary bequest of the same artist, with all his archaeological, artistic and book collections. The villa, located at the end of the Viale delle Cappelle of the Sacro Monte di Varese, was reopened to the public in May 2014.