THE BIBLIOTECA MALATESTIANA. A treasure in the heart of the city. Edited by Istituzione Biblioteca Malatestiana Pillar of the humanist tradition in Cesena, the Biblioteca Malatestiana is considered one of the most significant examples of Italian Fourteenth-century library. The historical and artistic importance of this Library derives from its structure which has remained unchanged across the centuries until today. Its building, the wall plaster, the floor, its shelving, and codices look today as they appeared to the visitors of five centuries ago. Its excellent conservation condition is not so common to find in other libraries from the same period. Other similar libraries have often been damaged by severe natural and historical events (earthquakes, fire, sacking, robbery, etc.), which have deteriorated their integrity and original beauty under many aspects. The building-up works presumably began in the summer of 1447 under the direction of architect Matteo Nuti (whose presence in Cesena is documented from this very date). At the time, the project had to satisfy the needs of the local Franciscan confraternity for a larger library. As early as 1445, the friars had required and obtained from Pope Eugene IV the authorization for using an illustrious citizen’s legacy to realize the library. The project was made possible thanks to the support of the city Enlightened nobleman, Domenico dei Malatesti, known as Malatesta Novello. The library structure was erected in the eastern wing of the Franciscan Convent, previously used as a dormitory, and its works were ended in 1452, as evidenced by the wall Latin epigraph collocated on the right side of the library portal: “MCCCCLII / MATHEVS NVTIVS / FANE(N)SI EX VRBE CREAT(VS) / DEDALUS ALTER OPVS / TANTU(M) DEDUX(IT) AD V(N)GVE(M)”. th But the structure was not completed before 15 August of 1454, when artist Cristoforo da S. Giovanni in Persiceto installed his great wooden portal. Both the portal doors are subdivided into forty-eight small panels decorated with the Malatesta family coats of arms. With its vaulted roofing supported by columns, this basilica-alike structure undoubtedly recall the Renaissance Library of San Marco’s Dominican Convent in Florence, erected thanks to the support of Cosimo dé Medici and realized by artist Michelozzo, between 1437 and 1444. As a matter of fact, Michelozzo innovated the simple architectural structure generally destined to medieval libraries and gave rise to an architectural model which marked forever the evolution of library buildings in Italy and not only. To a one-nave rectangular hall, he preferred a basilica-alike space with three aisles, separated by two rows of columns. The side aisles are mounted over by cross vaults while the nave is roofed by a barrel vault; inside, the shelving and furniture are realized by two rows of pine benches collocated along the side aisles. The result obtained by Michelozzo was a much more elegant and, presumably, a more comfortable interior if compared with previous libraries from the Middle Age. Probably the Malatestiana is characterized by the same interior harmony of San Marco’s Library, as evidenced in its green wall plaster reporting the names of Fourteenth-century visitors (including the names of Malatesta Novello and his wife, Violante), in its twenty white-marble columns with capitals decorated with Malatesta coats of arms, and in its 58 plutei (29 in each side) made in wood largely coming from the pinewood of Ravenna and decorated with the Malatesta coats of arms, as well as by the effect of sun light passing through the rose window in the backdrop wall and through the ogival windows along the hall sides. This unprecedented interior harmony is also evidenced in the floor made of terracotta tiles, which is decorated at any bay along the nave by the Latin inscription: "MAL(ATESTA) NOV(ELLUS) / PAN(DULPHI) FIL(IUS) / MAL(ATESTAE) NE(POS) / DEDIT". Even the perfection of the geometric design in the structure of the Sala del Nuti (Nuti’s hall) seems to derive from Renaissance Florence’s artistic tradition and, in particular, from the works of architect Leon Battista Alberti, who worked in Rimini in 1450 for another nobleman of Malatesta family, Sigismondo. This perfection gives to the Library a unique equilibrium, making it a model for the following developments. The accuracy of the Biblioteca Malatestiana together with its high state of preservation create a scene and an atmosphere so suggestive that contemporary (and future) visitors can temporarily forget the unfillable time-space distance which separate them from the historical period in which the Library was built up. Ancient volumes are still chained up to the wooden plutei with chains made in wrought iron, as used in the Fourteenth-century tradition. This habit was probably introduced to prevent these valuable books from being stolen or lost. At the time, the benches had the double function of being a “bookstand”, realized with the reclined plane, and of working as a “deposit for books”, contained in the underlying plane, where codices or manuscripts (generally 5 per pluteus) were collocated horizontally, divided according to their subject. The Biblioteca Malatestiana is also defined as the "first Italian public library”, provided its long-established relationship with the local City Council since its very origins. Because of the almost total loss of the private Malatesta’s Archive, it is now impossible to know exactly when Malatesta Novello decided to submit the Library to the administration of the City Council. Some documents of the City Archive however indicate an early relationship (since 1460s) between these two institutions. In addition, the death will of Malatesta Novello (drawn up in Venice in 1464) definitively entrusted the management of the Library to the City Council. Probably the illustrious nobleman of Cesena believed that linking the Library to the Municipality th administration was a positive step: with this measure, even after his death (occurred on 20 of November, 1465), the Library could benefit from the protection and control of local city authorities. As expected, his decision had positive results in the course of the years, contrarily to the unfortunate destiny of San Marco’s Library in Florence. There the illustrious nobleman, Cosimo dé Medici, entrusted the Library to the Dominican friars at his death but, after an earthquake in 1453, Florence’s library lost large part of its library heritage. The functions assigned to the City of Cesena in the management of the Library were in particular: to control the preservation of the library heritage (rigorously carried by the City Senate, every two months); to make an inventory of codices and manuscripts (inventories carried out in 1461 and in 1474 were lost); to control borrowings according to a precise system of control; to constantly maintain the building structure and facilities; to hire a library attendant or guardian among the neighbouring Franciscan friars, who is often supported by two representatives from the City Council (because the work of the library attendant was considered to be extremely important and delicate), and to dismiss him in case of non-fulfilment of his duties. Yet the relations between the Franciscan friars and the City Council were often under strain. The controversies about the effective municipal rights in the management of the Library can be traced out since th the late 17 century, and more precisely since 1671, when the Franciscan confraternity decided not to handle one of the two Library keys to the Council and, as a consequence, the City Council stopped to provide financial aid to the Library. Notwithstanding the scarcity of documents about these facts, it is likely th that the relations between the two institutions became unstable from that moment on. At the end of the 19 century the intervention of the City Council was crucial to better the Malatestiana after the degradation due to Napoleon’s occupation of the Library and of the Franciscan convent. After being deprived of all its furnishing facilities, the Library was used as a dormitory for Napoleon’s troops since 1797 and for a period of seven years. Only in 1804 was it converted again to its original function and structure and did it obtain its bibliographical heritage back. Notwithstanding the Municipality’s efforts, the Library was deprived by the French regiment, under the command of Gen. Berthier, of two precious incunabula - Ortographia dictionum by Tortorelli and Cosmographia by Ptolemy. One of Malatesta Novello’s great merit was definitively the idea of preparing and offering a worthy future for the Library and its manuscripts heritage, making its growth and preservation more certain even after his death. As a matter of fact, he left a legacy of 100 annual ducats in perpetuo to the Franciscan confraternity in order to buy new volumes and to cover other costs; he guaranteed to the lecturers of this studio a salary of 30 ducats per year; and, as early as 1455, he instituted special scholarships for poorer students. Although they were already in bad conditions and destined to deterioration, in 1812 the remains of Malatesta Novello were transferred to San Francesco Church, at the centre of the backdrop wall of the Library, as still indicated today by the marble Latin epigraph: D(IS) M(ANIBUS) S(ACRUM) / PRINCIPUM / MALATESTAR(UM) / SENIORIS NOVELLIQUE / CINERES QUOS DOMI / ET FORIS / CLARISS(IMA) VIRTUS / CAELO DICAVIT. It is probably from this moment that the Libraria Sancti Francisci (as the Biblioteca Malatestiana was denominated) became the Libraria Domini in every respect.
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