Pinacoteca Ambrosiana

Cultura - Musei

Piazza Pio XI, 2, 20123 Milano



The Ambrosiana Library, founded by Cardinal Federico Borromeo on 7th September 1607 and inaugurated on 8th December 1609, was one of the first libraries to be opened to the public, thanks to the gesture of an eminent philanthropist.  It was conceived by its founder as a centre for study and culture:  in fact, through his intervention other institutions came to flourish alongside, such as the Board of Fellows (Collegio dei Dottori, 1607), the Art Gallery (Pinacoteca, 1618), the Drawing Academy for teaching painting, sculpture and architecture  (Accademia del Disegno, 1620), the Trilingual Board (Collegio trilingue) and the Board of Alumni (Collegio degli Alunni, 1625).

Cardinal Borromeo collected for his Library, which took its name Ambrosiana from the patron saint and protector of Milan, a vast number of codices in Greek, Latin, Italian and various oriental languages.  These include the precious acquisitions of complete library collections originating from religious institutions such as the Benedictine Monastery of Bobbio, the Augustine Convent of  Santa Maria Incoronata and the Library of the Metropolitan Chapter (Capitolo Metropolitano) in Milan, as well as those originating from important private collections such as those of Gian Vincenzo Pinelli, Francesco Ciceri and Cesare Rovida, all renowned scholars and bibliophiles of the XVI century.  Among the innumerable donors who subsequently contributed to enriching the Ambrosiana, those who in the XIX century left their extraordinary collections of books as legacies to the Library are to be particularly remembered.  

The Ambrosian Library is undoubtedly one of the most important libraries in Italy and indeed in the world, owing to the vastness of its collections and the number and pricelessness of its codices.  It has had illustrious Fellows and Prefects, such as the Milanese historian Giuseppe Ripamonti, the great philologist and historian Ludovico Antonio Muratori, Giuseppe Antonio Sassi, great paleographers such as Angelo Mai, Antonio Maria Ceriani, Giovanni Mercati and Achille Ratti, who subsequently became Pope with the name of Pius XI.

The Library specializes in classical, historical, literary and religious volumes, particularly in a retrospective sense, that is to say, directed at the study of the past:  it is run by a Board of Fellows – presided over by the Prefect – which oversees its cultural activity, and by the Board of Trustees – presided over by a Chairman – which is dedicated to its administration.

Among the very rich collections of the Ambrosian Library special attention is to be drawn to the arab and oriental library collection, which is exceptionally important:  the glottological-dialect library of Carlo Salvioni and the heraldry collection of Enrico Casanova.  There are numerous palimpsests, with extremely precious and rare items such as the unique surviving fragments of the Vidularia by Plautus, dating back to the Vth century, and part of the gothic version of the biblical texts executed by the arian bishop Ulfila, as well as many beautifully illuminated manuscripts such as the Libro d’ore Borromeo (Borromeo Prayer Book) by Cristoforo De Predis, or the Aulo Gellio text decorated and signed by Guglielmo Giraldi.  However, the most important items are the Ilias Picta from the Vth century, the famous Virgiliowith notes in the margin by Francesco Petrarca and illuminated by Simone Martini, Giuseppe Flavio in Latin on papyrus, the Bangor Antiphonary, and the Syro-Hexaplaric version of the Bible.  There are moreover various codices such as the original manuscripts of De prospectiva pingendi by Piero della Francesca, of the Marziale completely transcribed by Boccaccio, the  Life of Guidobaldo di Montefeltro  (Vita di Guidobaldo di Montefeltro ) written by Pietro Bembo and the original manuscripts by St. Thomas Aquinas, Ariosto,  Machiavelli, Tasso, Galileo, as well as the entire library collections of Giuseppe Parini and Cesare Beccaria.

Many of the incunabula are extremely precious, such as for example the rare edition of the Decameron by Christopher Valdarfer (Venice 1471) and the numerous first editions.  The Library owns many priceless bindings of manuscripts and printed documents:  among the special collections, to be noted are the statutes, in the Aldine, Cominian and Bodonian editions, as well as the extremely rich collection of drawings, etchings and prints, encompassing approximately forty thousand items.  Last but not least, the Medal Collection is made up of more than twenty thousand coins and medals, including some items of exceptionally great value.



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