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Doors to Milan's treasures reopen



>From the Times of London:

Doors to Milan's treasures reopen

BY RICHARD OWEN ONE of Europe's oldest libraries, whose treasures
include a Leonardo Codex and a 5th-century copy of the Iliad, reopens
in Milan today after a =A320 million restoration lasting seven years.

The Ambrosian Library was founded in 1609, seven years after Sir
Thomas Bodley opened the Bodleian Library in Oxford. It was the
brainchild of Cardinal Federico Borromeo, and became the first public
library in Italy. Its initial 30,000 volumes grew to 400,000 printed
books, 15,000 manuscripts and 60,000 letters and documents. "It is a
DNA of our history," said La Stampa yesterday. The library is named
after the patron saint of Milan, St Ambrose.

The library reflected the cardinal's often eclectic tastes. It
guaranteed users ink, pens and paper, and in cold weather readers
were brought warmed slippers. It still possesses Petrarch's own
annotated parchment copy of Virgil poems, the illustrated Iliad,
brought from Alexandria and known as the Ilias Picta, and a manual on
the art of painting, De Prospectiva Pingendi, by Piero della
Francesca. The manuscript collection include letters from Boccaccio,
the author of the Decameron, Savonarola, Thomas Aquinas, Machiavelli,
Goethe and Stendhal.

Perhaps the oddest exhibit is a lock of Lucrezia Borgia's hair in a
crystal casket. Byron wrote ecstatically to John Murray when he saw
it in 1816 that the hair was "blonder than you can imagine", and is
said to have stolen a strand "as a keepsake".

The restored and expanded Pinacoteca, or art collection, on the first
floor has a cartoon or preparatory drawing by Raphael for his School
of Athens in the Vatican, a still life by Caravaggio entitled The
Fruit Basket and Titian's Adoration of the Magi.

But the Ambrosian's greatest treasure is Leonardo da Vinci's Atlantic
Codex, which consists of 400 pages, many of them covered in
Leonardo's scientific and technical drawings. Leonardo lived and
worked in Milan, and even designed war machines for the Dukes of
Milan, the Sforzas.

The reading room has been computerised, but the heart of the
collection remains its books and paintings. A stone tablet that is
still preserved in the library entrance warns anyone thinking of
stealing a volume that the penalty is no mere fine, but "instant
ex-communication".

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