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The Library of St. Lucia


The Library of St. Lucia, better known as the Zambeccari Library, was built by the Jesuits in order to give a more adequate space to the large number of books they had collected over the years. It was one of the last major works of the Jesuits in Bologna before the suppression of 1773.

In the area between via Castiglione, via Cartoleria and via de' Chiari the Jesuits, from around the second half of '500, founded schoools and colleges of repute and built the imposing church of St Lucia. Giuseppe Antonio Ambrosi, the architect, did not plan entry from the outside or a large entrance hall.

This was because the library was evidently reserved just for the Fathers' Company and their students. Ambrosi started the building on 29th March, 1742. In May the Jesuits received a donation from Zambeccari-Sbaraglia, made up of books and a yearly income. Thia reduced the financial burden but was dependant on the library being open to the public, as Bologna did not have a public library, commonplace in the Illuministic period. At this point a change was made in Ambrosi's project wich forced a rethink of the space.

An outside door was opened under the portico in via Castiglione to allow entry for the general public.

A rhomboidal staircase, a genuine baroque masterpiece, lead to the atrium, at that time designed to reach the largest room, wich remained unchanged from the original plans.

The walls were completely covered by rows of shelves, wich could hold up to 5000 books. The upper shelves were served by a gallery, protected by a balustrade.

As soon as the main construction was completed, the internal decoration began, following late-baroque guidelines. Among those that took part in this were Nicola Bertuzzi and Giuseppe Marchesi as figuratives painters, Pietro Scandellari as a painter of quadratures and ornamentation, Antonio Calegari as a decorative sculptor for ornamentation.

The idea for frescos came almost certainly from a Jesuit priest and was meant to illustrate the Christian vision of knowledge.

In the background wich dominates the main staircase Bertuzzi painted two cupids wich old phylactery, inciting the search for wisdom: “in omni animo tuo accede ad illam” (Liber Ecclesiastici, 6, 27).

In the volt of the atrium, Wisdom is portrayed as a woman, as presented in the Book of Proverbs. This allegory is also painted by Bertuzzi. Wisdom sits on a throne of clouds, with the symbols of eternity in her right hand, and a cornucopia in her left hand from wich emerge the symbols of religious and temporal authority.

The statue of cupid at her feet describes her as a “primogenita ante omnem creaturam” (Liber Ecclesiastici, 24, 5).

In the four pendentives of the vault, Bertuzzi depicts cupids with phylacteries that cite the qualities os wisdom from the Bible.

“Longitudo dierum in dextera eius” (Proverbiorum Liber, 3, 16),
“in sinistra illius divitiae et gloria” (Proverbiorum Liber, 3, 16),
“ex ore Altissimi prodivi” (Liber Ecclesiastici, 24, 5) and
“in omni populo steti” (Liber Ecclesiastici, 24, 9).

On the exterior wall there is an oval portraits in oils of Monsignor Francesco Zambeccari, the patron of library.

The room likes bigger because of the optical illusion created by the false architecture, painted by Scandellari. A decorated wooden balustrade finishes at the height of the wall.

In the great hall, in the oval fresco of the vault, Solomon is illuminated by the light of God, directed towards him by Wisdom. God is depicted as the symbol of the trinity, and Wisdom as a woman, seated on a throne of clouds.

A kneeling Solomon, a man amongst men, has prayed to obtain the gift of wisdom from God, according to the traditional Christian view. The cupid at his feet confirms that the prayer has been successful: “Venit in me spiritus sapientiae” (Liber Sapientiae, 7, 7).

The figure painter is Giuseppe Marchesi and Pietro Scandellari is the ornamental painter.

On the four sides of the oval are painted the rivers Tigri, Jordan, Phison and Gehon in full flood compared to the wisdom of God.

Wisdom overflows to all countries, represented by the landscapes at the four sides of the vault, and it supplies the subjects, depicted in semilunar frescos, under wich all the books of the library, arranged by subjects, were placed. Whoever read them expressed a wish to follow Solomon and aspired to reach the enduring gift of wisdom.

(Text and photos - Prof.ssa M. Gaspari)