Biblioteca Marciana, Venice, Italy

The Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana (English: National Library of St Mark’s) is a library and Renaissance building in Venice, northern Italy; it is one of the earliest surviving public manuscript depositories in the country, holding one of the greatest classical texts collections in the world. The library is named after St. Mark, the patron saint of Venice. It is not to be confused with the State Archive of the Republic of Venice, which is housed in a different part of the city.

The library was provided with a building designed by Jacopo Sansovino. The first sixteen arcaded bays of his design were constructed during 1537 to 1553, with work on frescoes and other decorations continuing until 1560. Sansovino died in 1570, but in 1588, Vincenzo Scamozzi undertook the construction of the additional five bays, still to Sansovino’s design, which brought the building down to the molo or embankment, next to Sansovino’s building for the Venetian mint, the Zecca. One of the early librarians, from 1530, was Pietro Bembo. However, the library stock began to be collected before the construction of the building. For example, the germ of the collections in the library was the gift to the Serenissima of the manuscript collection assembled by Byzantine humanist, scholar, patron and collector, Cardinal Bessarion; he made a gift of his collection on 31 May 1468: some 750 codices in Latin and Greek, to which he added another 250 manuscripts and some printed books (incunabula), constituting the first “public” library open to scholars in Venice. (In 1362 Petrarch’s library was donated to Venice but this collection of manuscripts, ancient books, and personal letters was lost or dispersed.)

The reasons for the birth: XIV – XVI century
The idea of creating a public library in Venice took shape for the first time with the stay of Francesco Petrarca in the city of the lagoon. In 1362 he decided to donate his books to the Republic to form the first nucleus of a larger collection open to scholars and culture lovers.

In the deliberation of acceptance of the poet’s proposal, the Maggior Consiglio envisaged the expenses necessary to create a suitable place for the preservation of books. The design by Francesco Petrarca, however, did not follow.

In the following century the donation of 1468 of the imposing and precious book collection of the Greek cardinal Bessarione , who arrived in Venice starting from 1469 and was housed in the Palazzo Ducale, governed by the Senate and placed under the care of the Procurators of San Marco , gave a real impulse to the idea of building the state library.

However, it took shape concretely only under the doge Andrea Gritti and his project to revitalize the city.
The construction of the Public Library building , hosting the Bessarione collection with future acquisitions and the offices (or reduced) of the Procurators of S. Marco, was entrusted to Jacopo Sansovino who began work in 1537.
The completion of the work, after his death in 1570, it was the work of Vincenzo Scamozzi.

In 1560 the Library of St. Mark, submitted to the judiciary of the Reformers of the Studio of Padua , was in operation: the large hall was equipped with walnut wood benches for reading which were chained codes and some closets to store books, and embellished with a rich decorative apparatus.

The Vestibule was used as the seat of the Scuola di S. Marco and of academic meetings.

In 1596 the Public Statuary of the Republic was inaugurated in the converted Vestibule of the Library, to accommodate the donation of Greek and Roman statues by Cardinal Giovanni Grimani, supplemented by other pieces by Federico Contarini.

The life of the Library and that of the Statuary have since been intertwined until the early twentieth century, when the Archaeological Museum was established.

The life of the Library in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries
The Library was enriched over time mainly thanks to donations and bequests, as well as due to the obligation imposed on the printers to deposit a copy of each published book, as required by a Venetian law of 1603 (the first in Italy on the subject).

To the patrician librarian, elected by the Reformers of the Study of Padua, he was then joined by a custodian, or a scholar, in charge of the reorganization of books, the editing of the catalog and the opening to scholars, helped by a soldier.

Around 1624 a first catalog of the library was published, describing codes and printed books. At the end of the seventeenth century the plutei with chains were replaced with 4 large reading tables.

At the beginning of the eighteenth century the library’s library patrimony was around ten thousand volumes, which from 1722 were equipped with an ex libris .
The growth required an expansion of the space and the Senate granted in 1725 the use of a room of the Procuratie wing adjacent to the Hall, which was intended for the conservation and reading of the manuscripts.

The Library was also granted an annual budget for the purchase of new books and the printing of the Greek, Latin and Italian manuscripts catalogs, published in 1740 and 1741, was financed.

In the same years an extensive reconstruction of the codings of the codes was carried out, all equipped with a leather binding with the march lion imprinted on the front plate.
The increase in volumes made it necessary to build shelving up to the ceiling and the transfer of paintings to the Palazzo Ducale.

At the end of the century, Marciana also increased its collections thanks to the transfer of part of the libraries of some monasteries, such as S. Giovanni di Verdara of Padua and SS. Giovanni and Paolo of Venice. Codes, printed matter and collections of documents in the venues of the Venetian magistracies were also confiscated, including the Council of Ten and the Senate, and the assignment to the Library of another room of the Procuratie was arranged.

Following the first French domination, after the fall of the Venetian Republic, the Library was stripped of 203 manuscripts and two printed musical works as well as a precious cameo donated by Girolamo Zulian, which were added to the rest taken from monastic libraries and brought to France .

After the fall of Napoleon, in 1816 the restitution was succeeded. Other requisitions of works, albeit limited, took place with the subsequent Austrian dominion, also recovered later.

The life of the Library in the Doge’s Palace from 1812 to 1904
In those years the library succeeded in obtaining an increase of two more rooms and the delivery, in 1801, of the famous Breviary Grimani , together with a group of codes embellished with very rich ligatures.

When the French returned in 1806, the library was to incarnate other monastic funds, following the suppression of religious institutions; among these a choice of the library of the Dominicans observing at the Zattere (Gesuati) where the rich collection of Apostolo Zeno was merged, and among the works conserved in the library of S. Michele di Murano, the Mappamondo di Fra Mauro .

Left in its original location until 1811, the Marciana, together with the Statuary, was transferred to the Palazzo Ducale, by decree of the ltalian Kingdom.
The rooms of the Maggior Consiglio, that of the Scrutinio and others adjoining it were assigned to the librarian’s office and the deposit of the volumes, which however could occupy only the space left by the numerous paintings on the walls.

The Quarantine room was instead adapted to a reading room. The consistency of the Library’s patrimony was then around 50,000 printed and 4556 manuscripts.
In the rooms of the Library, which had already been the seat of the National Assembly of the Provisional Government of the Republic of 1848-49, between October 21st and 22nd 1866 one of the votes of the plebiscite that ratified the annexation of the Veneto to the ‘Italy.

The Library in the twentieth century
The small spaces, the increase in the book heritage, the damage to the building, convinced the government in 1900 to assign a new headquarters to the Library.
This was the Sansovinian building of the former Mint of the Veneto State: for this purpose the courtyard was readjusted and covered to house the reading room, where twelve new tables for the readers were placed, while the real well was placed elsewhere.

Towards the pier, the largest room was reserved for the reading of manuscripts and rare and prepared rooms for consultation of various types of materials.
The transfer took place in 1904 and the statue of Francesco Petrarca, by the sculptor Carlo Lorenzetti, commissioned by the City of Venice for the centenary of the birth of the poet, was placed in the reading room in the opening ceremony of 27 April 1905.

In 1924 the Marciana got back, in addition to the Mint, also the Sansovian Library which was inaugurated in 1929 after three years of restoration and in which the canvases of the philosophers were repositioned.

Since then the Library has developed both for the services open to the public, and for the reading rooms and for a part of its book deposits, in the sixteenth century Mint building.

Consisting of book collections and other offices are housed in the Procuratie Nuove building and in the Sansoviniana Library building, while the Vestibule and the Sansovino salon are mainly dedicated to exhibitions and events.
The facade
Jacopo Sansovino is called upon to construct an important artifact that has the heavy task of marking a strong mark in the square, always designed by him but also that of not diminishing the meaning and value of it: it must also dialogue with the pre-existences.

The project is remarkable, the important structure. The decoration is at the base of the library, built on two floors. The architectural order, which significantly defines the decoration of the artefact, is superimposed, that is to say that we find on the ground floor a rich three-dimensional Doric that is supported by pillars (Roman) with triglyphs and metopes evident and on the upper level the Ionic . An example of great innovation are the very compact serlianas that characterize the building on the first floor.

The decorative enrichment of the library is embellished with sculptural works (do not forget that Sansovino himself was a sculptor and in this case puts his abilities to good use). Festoons of fruit, a large cornice with important statues in correspondence of the columns characterize the evident Renaissance crowning. For the first time we notice the emptying of the parapets right on the crown, an absolute novelty for the library.

In addition to innovation, everything is designed with reference to Roman models, such as festoons that were used in Roman funeral works.

Palladio defines the library “the richest and most ornate building ever made by the ancients up to here”.

The façade is on two levels:

the arches of the ground floor are of Doric order . On them stands a Doric trabeation that alternates triglifi and metope;
on the second level there is a loggia of the Ionic order , dominated in turn by a rich frieze in which there are putti and festoons of flowers and fruit. In the sottarchi, a rich sculptural decoration. On the crowning, a balustrade surmounted by statues of classical deities, works by Alessandro Vittoria , Tommaso Minio , Tommaso and Girolamo Lombardo , Danese Cattaneo and Bartolomeo Ammannati (the latter are attributed to the six rivers lying closer to the loggia and the god Phanes) .
In the façade, light and chiaroscuro, the voids prevail over the full ones. It is a polyvalent organism, whose elevation on the square is solved with a double order of Roman-style arches, inspired by the Teatro di Marcello and the sangalleschi projects for the courtyard of Palazzo Farnese, but the alterations of proportions show a desire for interpretation that goes beyond the academic citation. The first order, portico, takes up the double Roman system of the columns supporting the architrave and pillars supporting the arches, and the second (here prevails the Mannerist derogation) which presents discontinuous balustrades, columns supporting a very rich frieze and serliane so contracted by cancel their trifore value.

The library
Bessarione had placed the placement of books in a worthy place as a condition. But the Serenissima took a long time to fulfill this condition. The library was first placed in a building on the Riva degli Schiavoni , then in San Marco and finally in the Palazzo Ducale .

Only in 1537 was the construction of the Palazzo della Libreria, located in Piazza San Marco and designed by Jacopo Sansovino .

In 1545 the ceiling of the reading room collapsed and Sansovino found himself in prison. Thanks to the recommendations of influential friends, however, he was soon released and was able to resume his work, but he had to repay the damage with his own money. The library moved to the Old Library in 1553 . The building, however, was completed only in 1588 by Vincenzo Scamozzi , who had taken over the work after the death of Sansovino in 1570 .

Among others, Tiziano , Paolo Veronese , Alessandro Vittoria , Battista Franco , Giuseppe Porta , Bartolomeo Ammannati and Tintoretto contributed to its decoration .

The Marciana National Library specializes in classical philology and the history of Venice . Its book heritage consists of:

622,804 volumes Press
2,887 incunabula
13,113 manuscripts
24.069 cinquecentine
The most important examples from Marciana are the two most illustrious Iliad codes , the Homerus Venetus A (10th century) and the Homerus Venetus B (11th century).

Worthy of mention also the magna Chronology of Fra Paolino , a manuscript of the Naturalis Historia of Pliny , copied by Giovanni Pico della Mirandola in 1481, a copy of the first book printed in Venice, the Epistulae ad familiares of Cicero in 1481 and four consilium manuscripts Bartolomeo Capodivacca in the fourteenth century.

The library also houses 56 volumes of journals by Marin Sanudo , one of the most important sources of Venetian history between 1496 and 1533 . A particular library treasure is a complete collection of the Aldines .

The library also has a remarkable collection of maps and atlases , both historical and current. The world map of Fra Mauro (1459) and the map of the city of Venice by Jacopo de ‘Barbari (1500) stand out. Since 1996, the Library’s heritage has been the subject of a series of interventions for bibliographic retrieval, reproduction, digitalisation and cataloging. Some of these interventions have been realized also thanks to the funds of the Gioco del Lotto , according to what is regulated by the law 662/96 .

Monumental rooms
The Monumental Halls of the Library give the opportunity to know the beauty of the ancient Library of St. Mark, made largely by Jacopo Sansovino and completed by Vincenzo Scamozzi: equipped with an extraordinary staircase of honor, a vestibule, then transformed into Public Statuario, of the Hall used as a Library, with a very rich decoration, composes an historical-artistic itinerary of considerable interest and value.

Today, the museum area is home to exhibitions and events.