An exemplary Renaissance library: The Badia Fiesolana and the concept of Medicean learning

The library of the Badia Fiesolana appears to be the only library collection in Renaissance Italy which exclusively offers the required humanist and academic literature of the time. Built up following a precise acquisition plan, the holdings show exactly what Medicean learning looked like, since no bequests or other acquisitions contaminated the original holdings. Sponsored by Cosimo il Vecchio de’ Medici between 1462 – 1464, it included about 200 manuscripts, most of them purposively produced, at great expenses and employing  numerous scribes.

The Badia library consequently offers us an idea of the original state of a semi-public library belonging to a school which could satisfy a multitude of clients: the canons themselves, Florentine humanists and Florentine youth. The Badia’s holdings compare very favorably with contemporary institutions of higher education in the liberal arts or in canon law, fields in which the two major Abbots of the Badia were experts.

This online exhibition introduces three aspects of the library in twenty slides: the historical setting of the Badia, the almost uniform set of purposively manufactured books, and a sample of typical texts intended for general humanist education. The example of the Badia Fiesolana library therefore yields an unique insight into the ideal set up of an early Renaissance library in Italy with its foundational texts for teaching and learning. The library is an exemplary keystone for the understanding the Renaissance world of intellectual history.


Angela Dressen (Villa I Tatti), Giovanna Ida Rao (Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana)