Michelangelo’s Biblioteca Laurenziana, which leads from them, is one of the most perfect of sombre buildings, the very home of well-ordered scholarship. The staircase is impressive, although perhaps a little too severe; the long room could not be more satisfying to the eye. Michelangelo died before it was finished, but it is his in design, even to the ceiling and cases for MSS. in which the library is so rich, and the rich red wood ceiling. Vasari, Michelangelo’s pupil and friend and the biographer to whom we are so much indebted, carried on the work. His scheme of windows has been upset on the side opposite the cloisters by the recent addition of a rotunda leading from the main room. If ever rectangular windows were more exquisitely and nobly proportioned I should like to see them. The library is free for students, and the attendants are very good in calling stray visitors’ attention to illuminated missals, old MSS., early books and so forth. One of Galileo’s fingers, stolen from his body, used to be kept here, in a glass case, and may be here still; but I did not see it. I saw, however, the portraits, in an old volume, of Petrarch and his Laura.
This wonderful collection was begun by Cosimo de’ Medici; others added to it until it became one of the most valuable in the world, not, however, without various vicissitudes incident to any Florentine institution: while one of its most cherished treasures, the Virgil of the fourth or fifth century, was even carried to Paris by Napoleon and not returned until the great year of restoration, 1816. Among the holograph MSS. is Cellini’s “Autobiography”. The library, in time, after being confiscated by the Republic and sold to the monks of S. Marco, again passed into the possession of a Medici, Leo X, son of Lorenzo the Magnificent, and then of Clement VII, and he it was who commissioned Michelangelo to house it with dignity.
An old daily custom in the cloisters of S. Lorenzo was the feeding of cats; but it has long since been dropped. If you look at Mr. Hewlett’s “Earthwork out of Tuscany” you will find an entertaining description of what it used to be like.
Or San Michele and the Palazzo Vecchio
The little Bigallo—The Misericordia—Or San Michele—Andrea Orcagna—The Tabernacle—Old Glass—A company of stone saints—Donatello’s S. George—Dante conferences—The Guilds of Florence—The Palazzo Vecchio—Two Towers—Bandinelli’s group—The Marzocco—The Piazza della Signoria—Orcagna’s Loggia—Cellini and Cosimo—The Perseus—Verrocchio’s dolphin—The Great Council Hall—Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo’s cartoons—Bandinelli’s malice—The Palazzo Vecchio as a home—Two cells and the bell of independence.
Let us now proceed along the Via Calzaioli (which means street of the stocking-makers), running away from the Piazza del Duomo to the Piazza della Signoria. The fascinatingly pretty building at the corner, opposite Pisano’s Baptistery doors, is the Bigallo, in the loggia of which foundling children used to be displayed in the hope that passers-by might pity them sufficiently to make them presents or even adopt them; but this custom continues no longer. The Bigallo was designed, it is thought, by Orcagna, and it is worth the minutest study.