Collection building in the Renaissance

Monastery library (Sassetta)

On the one hand Cosimo de’ Medici’s acquisition policy followed the literary canon of pope Nicholas V, written around 1440 as an exemplar for public library collection, while it also reflected humanist developments of the following twenty years. The Badia library crucially held a specialized selection of religious, classical and juridical texts. Therefore the Badia concentrates its holdings on a large section of patristic texts, which includes the Bible and its early Christian and medieval commentators, a section on scholasticism, a topic indispensable for teaching purposes, but selected here for ultimately useful authors: Aristotle, another primary teaching authority,  present here in new translations by leading humanists, and a selection of classical texts, together with some books on canon law.

The majority of the purposely produced manuscripts came from the shop of the Florentine bookseller Vespasiano da Bisticci, whose bookshop was known across Europe. The production process required borrowing manuscripts to be copied from other Florentine and Italian monastic or private libraries. They were produced following the standards of the shop for semi-precious books: written on paper in folio size, bound in parchment, with illuminated initials, long index tables as an orientation for the chapters, a dedication from the donor to the library, and their shelf mark. Given that they were intended to  be laid out and consulted in a semi-public library frequented by the canons, the pupils from the library school, and external humanists and scholars, they usually had very few marginal notes. However some library readers, such as the humanist luminary Angelo Poliziano, left handwritten annotations. The books were displayed on two rows of eight benches, to which they were chained, as in other contemporary conventual libraries. This period of intense activity at the Badia lasted about a century, from the mid-15th to the mid-16th century, which means, from Cosimo il Vecchio de’ Medici to Cosimo I Grand Duke of Tuscany.