The Teresian Library (Italian: Biblioteca Teresiana) is a historical library, founded in Mantua by the empress Maria Theresa of Austria, in 1780. Since 1881 it has been a municipal library.
Former Jesuit College
The Library is located in the former College of the Society of Jesus.
The Jesuits, in charge of higher education and university education of the ruling classes of the city, settled in Mantua in 1584, with the favor and support of Duke Guglielmo Gonzaga and his wife Eleonora of Austria, and operated until the suppression of the Order in the 1773.
The architectural complex belonging to the Jesuits occupied the entire block between Via Roberto Ardigò, Via Pomponazzo, Via Doctrina Cristiana.
The adjacent Palazzo degli Studi (Mantova) was built by the Jesuits between 1753 and 1763, based on designs by the Bolognese architect Alfonso Torreggiani, as a new residence for the Gymnasium, which was later named by the Austrians Regio Arciducale Ginnasio (today Liceo Virgilio ). Originally the use of the Library was intended primarily for teachers and students of the Gymnasium.
The buildings belonging to the convent, from 1883 were occupied by the State Archives of Mantua.
Facing the former Jesuit college, Palazzo dell’Accademia, home to the Mantuan academics since 1562 and now of the Virgilian National Academy.
Together these buildings form the city of Mantua.
The Imperial Royal Library of Mantua was opened to the public on March 30, 1780.
The empress Maria Theresa of Austria had launched a vast program of laicization and reform of cultural and educational institutions and the foundation of the Library represented an important milestone. The Library was originally an Antiquarian Museum and Library of the Academy of Sciences and Fine Letters, for which small sections of art objects survive.
Hapsburg period: 1780-1797
Prefect of the library was appointed lawyer Leopoldo Camillo Volta, a man of letters and a Mantuan scholar who had spent a long time in Vienna, attended the Imperial Library and established relations with the director of the same, Abbot Michel Denis.
The first nucleus of volumes of the Library came from the library of the Jesuit College, from that of the Academy, from the libraries of the suppressed convent of the Carmelites (1783), from donations and legacies of private individuals.
Duplicates of volumes from the libraries of Vienna, Cremona and the Biblioteca Nazionale Braidense were acquired.
There were no works of a scientific nature: the prefect managed to obtain a significant number of volumes from the “Cornaro” library of the Venetian senator Giacomo Soranzo and the empress donated part of the purchase of the Swiss naturalist Albrecht von Haller’s collection.
Napoleonic period: 1797-1814
During the French period the Library was enriched with manuscripts and volumes from the suppressed convents of San Benedetto in Polirone (1797), of the convents of the Augustinians (1797), of the Dominicans (1797), of the Franciscans (1805). In 1823 the volumes deposited in the Library were approximately 40,000.
Period of Restoration 1815-1866
In 1816 manuscripts were returned, stolen by the French;
In 1824 there was the purchase of manuscripts belonging to the fund of Leopoldo Camillo Volta, prefect of the Library from 1779 to 1823.
In 1838 the Library acquired the complete collection from 1689 of the ” Gazzetta di Mantova “.
Kingdom of Italy: 1866-1946
In 1866, the Library became governmental.
In 1881 it became municipal.
At the beginning of the 1900s the number of volumes reached around 120,000.
In 1912 the “Popular Library” opened on the ground floor, open in the evening, from November to April, to allow the influx of workers: in 1915 it was transferred to Palazzo Aldegatti.
In 1930 the acquisition of the library of the Jewish Community of Mantua took place.
In 1952 the volume of volumes amounted to 200,000.
In 1930 the Library extends by incorporating a long corridor, until 1915 used as an antique museum. Between 1915 and 1925 the statues had been transferred to Palazzo Ducale. The corridor was divided into consultation rooms, offices and warehouses.
In 1932 the Rare Books Room was created.
In 1959 the study rooms, the offices, the warehouses and the access staircase were renovated.
In 1995, the whole building was restored and brought up to standard.
The Library is reopened to the public on March 30, 2014.
The rooms destined for the Library were two large rooms on the first floor and adapted to a design by the Veronese architect Paolo Pozzo. In honor of the empress they were called first and second Teresian. The large walnut shelves, initially made only for the first room (in the second will be installed in 1818) were inspired by the style of Fischer von Erlach, architect of the Hofbibliothek in Vienna (1726).
The halls of knowledge
The interior of the Teresiana Library has an austere appearance, ideal for who wishes to spend hours reading and studying. The library is enriched by several shelves, wood work designed to hold the most important books of the collection. The Teresiana has always hosted some of the most important artistic and scientific collections.
The great halls
These rooms were under the supervision of the Jesuits until the suppression of the religious order in 1773. Here the large public library began to take shape and was called after the long-lived Empress. The building also housed the Museo dell’Antichità, with its prestigious collections belonging to the Gonzaga family, before it was transferred in the halls of Palazzo Ducale. The connection to the nearby Accademia, where today the Bibiena Theatre still stands, is very strong. Nearby is also the State Archives building, erected in 1883. When the university was moved to Pavia by the Austrians, this building continued to embody the desire to create a cultural centre, a real fortress where the Library and the Classical Lyceum would continue to live on and flourish until this day. Here we can take a glimpse of the central part of the Library, the so called Prima Sala Teresiana.
The wide rectangular space, illuminated by four windows on each side, is characterized by two series of shelved where the most precious volumes are kept. The material used is walnut wood for the more visible parts, poplar wood for the structural parts.
The Library, restored and reopened to the visitors in 2014, houses an extraordinary collection of books. More than 400,000 volumes among which 15,000 incunabula and more than 1,300 manuscripts. The incunabula section is one of the most significant and rich in Italy. To be more precise, it is composed of 1,265 volumes, for a total of 1,083 different editions. Twenty-four titles are the only copies in Italy, among which five are the only copies in the whole world. There are also illuminated copies and prestigious woodcut editions.
The shelves of the second hall were put in place only in 1818.
Knowledge and globes
The manuscript section of the library, made up of 1,381 volumes (among which 535 are Medieval) is outstanding. The codes of the religious orders of the whole district were moved here, following the suppression of various orders during the Habsurg Empire and the Napoleonic period. Also, the section houses 385 precious codes from the San Benedetto in Polirone Abbey, a monastery founded and patronized by the Canossa (Tedaldo di Canossa, 1007). The scriptorium of Polirone was a place of creation already at the time, and production here continued for centuries despite the periods of crisis.Not much is left of the collection of codices belonging to the Gonzaga family, though the ones kept here are remarkable; also interesting are the works which once belonged to other noble families from Mantua. In addition, the collection of the library also includes a series of letters from various periods and some important works, such as the autograph manuscript of Confessioni di un Italiano, by Ippolito Nievo (Padova 1831, Tyrrhenian Sea 1861).
The Franciscan Coronelli was a geographer and cartographer. He is the author of the book Libro dei Globi di misure differenti. The first pair of Globes by Coronelli kept in the Teresiana Library are appreciated above all for the dimensions, one metre in diameter. The globe of the earth was designed following precise cartographic measurements, and is embellished by small animals both real and imaginary, and by scenes depicting people travelling through the different inhabited areas.
In the representation of the celestial globe, Coronelli inserted the eighty-three constellations, including the twelve zodiacal signs. Although the provenance of the globes cannot be determined with certainty – they were surely created in Venice – they were probably part of the Gonzaga Collection.
Matteo Greuter is the author of four globes, kept in the Teresiana Library, two globes of the earth and two celestial globes. Greuter is best known for having created a large map of Italy. The globes allowed him to insert additional representations, here we find a series of figures that are very refined and have a strong pictorial quality.
The Image captures the overall harmony between the drywall globes mounted on wood structures and the fascinating halls of the Library.
The second pair of globes by Coronelli is smaller than the first. Nothing however is lost in the descriptions and lines that form constellations and trace continents. Both globes are placed on an interesting wooden structure, which of course is Atlas, who is bending under the weight of the sphere he is condemned to bear.
A significant painting
Vindizio Nodari Pesenti is one of the most representative artists of the period that goes from the end of nineteenth century to the early twentieth century in Mantua. He was a pupil of his uncle Domenico Pesenti, also a painter. The long career of Pesenti reflects the influences of academicism, realism, divisionism and Italian post-Impressionism.
This painting depicts the surroundings as they appeared at the time of the erection of the Teresian Library. In the background, looking through the open window, it is possible to identify the contour of the great dome of the church of Sant’Andrea, the town’s landmark. Instead of books and work tables, the subject of the painting is the important collection of ancient works in marble, later moved to the Palazzo Ducale, property of the city. The absence of visitors and the vertical harmony of the work, today rightly kept in the halls of the library, create a sense of immersion and of wonder.
A priceless heritage
The study room, where manuscripts and rare books are kept, is illuminated by a large window that also gives light to the corridor. The restoration of the rooms was carried out with particular attention to the furniture, which, in addition to being functional for consultation, is designed so as to not create a contrast with the older pieces still in place. The Teresian Library, a public library since 1881, today has been granted museum status.
The modern entrance of the Library gives access to a large hall on the ground floor, which is located just below the corridor.
History and legends
The Teresian Library also houses a vast collection of historical findings, many of paramount importance. Among the personal archives it is worth mentioning the one belonging to the diplomat and traveller Giuseppe Acerbi (Castel Goffredo 1773, Castel Goffredo 1846), which includes Egyptian artefacts, and the collection of the researcher and art historian Ercolano Marani (Castellucchio 1914, Mantova 1994). The collection also includes items dating to the Italian Risorgimento; legal documents; literary works composed in dialect; the fund of Francesco and Ettore Campogalliani – Francesco was a great puppeteer who lived between the nineteenth and twentieth century, while Ettore was a composer and one of the best singing teachers of his time. In addition to medical sciences, also natural sciences occupy an important position in the collection thanks to the fund of the naturalist Enrico Paglia (Mantua 1834, Mantua 1889).
The precious library of the thriving local Jewish community is also kept in the Teresian Library. It is a valuable legacy comprising 160 manuscripts, the oldest dating to the fourteenth century, and 1,549 printed works. Mantua was in fact the most important city for the study of Jewish culture, where Kabbalistic schools flourished, together with Jewish theatre and poetry, despite recurring persecutions. In the twentieth century Vittore Colorni, an important scholar and discipline expert, donated his personal library to the Teresiana.
The contour of the co-cathedral of Sant’Andrea, designed by Leon Battista Alberti (Genoa 1404, Rome 1472), appears in the large central window that illuminates the corridor.
The frescoes room
This room on the second floor of the Teresian library, towards the end of the corridor on the left, was very probably used for religious purposes, as attested by the frescoes that decorate it. Perhaps this was the so-called Oratorio delle Scuole inferiori The frescoes depicting scenes from the life of Christ, have been attributed by Stefano L’Occaso, although it is not possible to prove this with certainty, to the late Baroque painter Siro Baroni, who lived and worked in Mantua, and whose works can be admired in the churches of Santa Barbara and Sant’Orsola.
The key feature of the frescoes of this room is the relatively small dimension of the figures, traced with a skilful and graceful stroke; behind them the landscape and an impressive blue sky. Everything in the fresco is blue except these figures that are painted with more intense colours: the frescoes are a vivid depiction of some scenes of the life of Christ.
Christ keeps his eyes closed and is bending to receive the holy water from John the Baptist who is pouring it over his head.
The protagonists of this scene have a bewildered look on them, they are almost intimidated by a very solemn Christ who summons them to preaching and martyrdom.
La Sala delle Vedute
The so-called Sala delle vedute is on the ground floor, at the end of the great entrance hall. Opened after restoration in 2014, it has become a conference room; it was maybe the first reading room of the popular library. The frescoes decorating it depict two couples of young girls carrying books, and four dancers. Also, and this is where the name of the hall comes from, on the wall are ten scenes of the city of Mantua, with its monuments and buildings appearing in the distance. The style of the decoration is decidedly Liberty, and the delicate combination of different colours conveys a sense of lightness.
The Teresian Library has a conspicuous digitized heritage, consisting of around 350,000 images that can be consulted online:
Antique cartographic prints
Archive of the Jewish Community
Local historical periodicals