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Monday, October 21, 2019

A Tale of Two Libraries and Many Eras

The photos left and below right are from the same building - the Biblioteca Hertziana (the Hertziana Library and Max Planck Institute for Art History) - above the Spanish Steps in Rome.

They illustrate one of our great pleasures in Rome - the mixing of the old and the new, here the Renaissance and the contemporary with a bit of ancient Rome thrown in. The 'grotesque' mask-like exterior was created in the late 1600s by painter Federico Zuccari (for whom the Palazzo is now named), echoing the "Parco dei Mostri" outside of Rome in Bomarzo. 

As many times as we've been up the street - via Gregoriana - and in the piazza at the top of the Spanish Steps (Piazza della Trinita' dei Monti), we had never noticed this amazing facade.

Another library in Rome that inserts the 21st century into older buildings is the Biblioteca Universita' Lateranense (the Pontifical Library at San Giovanni in Laterano).

Above, its older entrance; left, inside the 21st-century library.

A close-up photo of a Zuccari fresco on science, illustrating
a graphic anatomy lesson.
We have spent years trying to get into the contemporary Hertziana during Open House Roma; there seemed to be no other way to see the inside (our emails and telephone calls for personal access went unanswered).  We finally landed a place in 2019's OHR, only to find first what we had not known existed - the 16th- century part of the complex that included Zuccari's frescoing inside the palazzo.
Tourists turn their backs on
Palazzo Zuccari's facade
in Piazza della Trinita' dei

A Zuccari ceiling, painted 1590.

But we were there to see the 21st-century library, designed by Navarro Baldeweg and Da Gai architects, 2003-2012. It is magnificent.

Looking up through the glass lined walls, it feels like
one is looking at a James Turrell skyspace.

And, it can't be Rome without the discovery of ancient ruins, in this case the villa of Lucio Licinio Lucullo. The architects solved the problem of excavations delaying the library for decades by creating a "bridge" over the ruins so that the excavations could continue while the library was built and continues to be used. Also discovered were a ninfeo that was in the gardens of the ancient Roman villa.
Model of the Biblioteca Hertziana

Looking down from the library through the glass wall, one
sees some ancient ruins, part of a visual backdrop for the
library's entrance (at this point, being remodeled). This
area is just above the excavations, which have none of the
heavy library directly above them, just the airy space
going towards the sky.

And what would be a Roman palazzo today without a view? Those of us on the tour were treated to the rooftop terrace.

The fellows and employees of the Max Planck Institute
can take their morning coffee up here.

The Lateranense Library had long been on our wish list after architect Nathalie Grenon told us it was one of her favorite contemporary buildings. It too imposes a 21st-century library among older buildings. Architects King & Roselli (who also did the Radisson Blu in Rome) also use stepped floors to give incredible and sometimes vertiginous vistas of light and air to heavy library stacks and work areas. The library was built 2004-2006.

Modern entrance to the Biblioteca Lateranense
with the older buildings of the Pontifical
University reflected.

And as a treat, across the parking lot from the Pontifical library is Borromini's Baptistry (below).


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