Accompanied by my friend Jack Levison (a Bible scholar at Southern Methodist University who was in Italy to study ancient manuscripts), I hit six libraries in a literary Giro d’Italia. Not once were we shushed or told not to touch.
Carlo Campana, the librarian on duty in the Marciana manuscript room when we arrived, was typical in his affable erudition. Bald, voluble, with a pirate’s flashing grin, Mr. Campana left his post to take me on a quick tour of the library’s monumental public rooms.
“The Marciana was built here as part of the 16th-century project to create a triumphal entry to the city from the lagoon,” he said, joining me on the balcony off the “salone,” Sansovino’s palatial reading room. “Situating the library in the most important place in Venice reflects the prestige of the book in the culture of the city.” Knit seamlessly into the architectural fabric surrounding San Marco, the Marciana was hailed by Palladio as the richest and most ornate building “since Antiquity” when it opened in 1570…
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