Thursday, July 22, 2004

July 22 thursday

I tried to go to the Laurentian Library above the closter of San Lorenzo today but could only get in to see the entryway, as the reading room is under renovation. 

As in the Medici Chapel, many of the architectural elements here seem to be fighting for space.  Double columns recessed completely into the walls have scroll-shaped corbels, similar to the wavy, scroll-shaped features of the "kneeling windows" in the Medici Chapel.  In the corners of the room, these corbels actually protrude into each others' spaces and merge symmetrically.  The walls and the staircase are divided into threes.  There are three levels: the entry floor, the library level reached by the staircase, and a third level above this one, with shallow, square relief-columns rising above the round, deeply set columns which occupy the library, or second level, of the walls.  All three levels are divided along the same lines into equal thirds by the double pillars and by three windowless, empty niches on the second floor.  The windows and the shallower, simpler pattern of the top level of the walls gives a sense of increasing lightness to the vertical reach of the space.  The large staircase occupies the majority of the plan, and this, together with the height of the room and the lines of the columns gives an exaggerated sense of verticality to the space.  Furthermore, the ground floor's relative lack of decoration reminds me of the crypt of a church, and indeed we feel almost buried when we enter this space.  The main feature of the walls on the entry floor is the corbels, which descend from the columns above but do not reach the floor, as if they were descending like tree roots into the ground, adding to the subterranean effect.  Again, the decoration on the level of the library gives a feeling of crowded abundance.  The staircase, originally planned in mahogany but executed in a cool grey colored stone, divides into three rows of stairs with three flights each.  The central flight has very unusual and beautiful, curving steps which become oval in shape on the last three steps.  The rows of steps grow wider as they descend, and the railings end in increasingly larger flat platforms.  The staircase seems to be spilling into the room, crowding it. 

 

Thus, as in the Medici chapel, there is a square room with empty niches offering a sense of weight and a crowd of forms that gives way to lightness and simplicity at the higher levels.  In both cases, I feel the presence of death.  In the case of the library entry, the stairs lead us out of this into the brilliance, presumably, of learning and the world of the mind.   

I should make a comment about the "crowding" of forms I mentioned.  In both the Medici Chapel and here the "crowded" feeling does not exceed the sense of balance and harmony in the space, as it does, for instance, in some baroque architecture.  Part of what's interesting is that there is an observed harmony which is being strained or tested, but not quite broken.  There is an analogy to music.  strain between proportion and the abundant expression of life and form. 


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