The Ambrosian Library is one of the oldest public libraries in Italy. The library also houses the Ambrosian art gallery, the Pinacoteca Ambrosiana located in Milan. The institution was named after Ambrose - the patron saint of Milan and founded by Cardinal Frederic Borromeo whose agents scoured Western Europe, Syria and Greece- seeking manuscripts and books. The library is known today for their remarkable collection of manuscripts from countries in the Middle East, China, Russia, India, Japan and Italy. The library is also well known for holding the Codex Atlanticus - the largest anthology of writings and drawings by Leonardo da Vinci which covers topics from flight to weaponry, mathematics, botany and musical instruments.
12,000 drawings by European artists are now contained within the library dating from the 14th through to the 19th centuries. 30,000 manuscripts ranging from Latin and Greek to Syriac, Hebrew and Arabic are present within the library's collection. The earliest manuscript the library holds is an original copy of De Divina proportione by Luca Pacioli.
The Pinacoteca Ambrosiana art gallery has a large collection of European and Italian art. The art gallery supported the Academy of Fine Arts in Milan which existed from 1621 - 1776. The gallery has a number of notable works which include Leonardo da Vinci’s Portrait of a Musician, Bramantino’s Adoration of the Christ Child, Caravaggio’s Fruit Basket and Raphael’s cartoon of The School of Athens.
The School of Athens
Raphael Sanzio’s cartoon of The School of Athens is one of the most cherished works in Milan. Raphael drew this renaissance cartoon as a preparatory study for the Stanza della Segnatura in the Vatican - commissioned by Julius II. The drawing is incredibly detailed and portrays lifelike characters. Sanzio paid great attentiveness to this exquisite drawing.
Treatise on Painting
The Ambrosiana collection holds Leonardo da Vinci's A Treatise on Painting; Trattato della pittura which is a collection of Leonardo da Vinci's writings entered in his notebooks under the general heading ‘On Painting’. The treatise's main focus was to argue that painting was a science. The manuscripts were worked on for the last twenty five years of Leonardo’s life. The manuscripts were formed in Milan whilst Leonardo was under the service of Italian Renaissance nobleman, Ludovico Sforza.
Science and botanicals
The treasures found within the Ambrosiana collection also include scientific works such as Leonardo da Vinci's drawings of Scientific Instruments. Leonardo created and drew many mechanical ideas ahead of his time including the use of concentrated solar power, a parachute and a calculator.
The Ambrosiana collection has a series of botanical wonders to display. These also come under the scientific umbrella as they portray accurate depictions of plants and their wonderful structures. Botanical drawings are essential in understanding plants as one illustration can portray different elements of the plant all on one page.
Extraordinary maps can be found within the Ambrosiana collection which exclusively cover areas of Europe in the seventeenth century. These historical maps can help one determine what an area was like in the past. We can understand the movements of people and compare the ancient to modern landscape.
Interesting architectural drawings are also present amongst this collection. Below we have two drawings - one is a study of a hexastyle temple, the other is a view of a villa. The hexastyle temple has been drawn with exceptional depth, the grey background adds colour to the six columned building Both drawings hold great detail and are possible proposals for architects to consider.
Finally we end this article by taking a look at these spectacular illuminated manuscripts found in the Ambrosiana archive. These manuscripts all consist of painted decoration. Occasionally gold and silver metals have been used to highlight pages. These manuscripts were produced between the years of 1100 to 1600. Pages were made using animal skin, mainly the skin of a calf, sheep or goat. These brilliant illustrations were commissioned by wealthy patrons who wanted the works for their personal libraries.
Discover many more images from the Veneranda Biblioteca Ambrosiana available on our website