A sumptuous Dominican library

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In Via Sant’Ignazio, Rome you will find a spectacularly beautiful library – the Biblioteca Casanatense  – which was founded by the Dominican friars of the Monastery of Santa Maria sopra Minerva in Rome at the request of Cardinal Girolamo Casanate, and then inaugurated in 1701 in a structure within the Minerva cloister specially designed by the architect A.M. Borioni.

To the 25,000 original volumes that the cardinal bequeathed to the library were added many others acquired by the Dominicans over the years. Through their contacts with the main European booksellers, they sought out both antique and modern volumes to build up a “universal library” of texts on theology, economics and Roman law, as well as other scientific and artistic works.

In 1884, the Dominican librarians were finally replaced by civil servants when the library was forfeited to the Italian state, Since then it has formed part of the Ministry of Culture with a collection of over 350,000 works.

The splendid salone (hall), measuring 60.15 x 15.30 metres, is home to some 55,000 illustrated works dating from the 16th to the 18th centuries, displayed on magnificent wooden shelves built by the sculptor Marchesi and the gilder Cantoni to a design by Borioni. The shelving, divided by a single gallery halfway up, covers the walls from floor to ceiling, bathed in a perfectly uniform flood of light from the windows pierced in the vaulted ceiling above.

The coat of arms of the Casanate family can be seen ( a tower surmounted by an eight-pointed star), the same symbol found on the library decorations and stamped on each object in the collection. This includes two magnificent 18th-century globes (the Earth and the Heavens), drawn in pen and wash by Abbot Moroncelli, a celebrated cosmographer, geographer, as well as an ancient copper sphere surmounting the statue of Cardinal Casanate, created in 1708 by the French sculptor Pierre Le Gros.

This really is a wonderful place to visit and can be visited free of charge on request and I encourage you to take in the majesty of this beautiful library.

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