Art et Culture

The National Library - Naples

The first nucleus of the National Library dates back to 1734, when Charles of Bourbon came to the throne.
He inherited the Farnese Library from his mother Elizabeth, and it was set up in Naples at the Royal Palace of Capodimonte.
Towards the end of the 18th century, the gradual process of moving and setting up the library at the Palazzo degli Studi (today the National Archaeological Museum) began, and the collection was enlarged by the acquisition of private libraries with the helps of funds deriving from the suppression of religious orders.
The Royal Library of Naples was officially opened to the public in 1804, and after the unity of Italy it took the name of National Library.
Over the years, the Palazzo degli Studi proved inadequate for the dimensions of the collection, to which the Workshop of the Papyri of Herculaneum was annexed in 1910.
In 1927, after much debate, the collection was transferred to the eastern wing of the Royal Palace in Piazza del Plebiscito.
The National Library occupied the new arm of the palace, planned in the 16th century and transformed after 1837 into an apartment for receptions.
On the first floor the rooms are decorated with frescoes and plasterwork of white and gold in the neoclassical style, while the rooms of the upper floors, already private apartments in the 19th century, have decorations in the Pompeian style and neogothic tempera.
Precious cabinets in walnut wood and gold, created for the Palazzo degli Studi in the second half of the 18th century, furnish the reading room on the first floor.
On the upper floors there is also an example of a swivel reading stand that belonged to Queen Maria Carolina of Austria, and an elegant piece of Neapolitan woodwork; an inlaid table, decorated with a compass surrounded by Bourbonic lilies.
The library has been enriched by other private collections, and today keeps over 2 million items including books and papers, 4563 incunabula, 32950 manuscripts, 1788 papyrus scrolls from Herculaneum, periodicals, prints and drawings.
Some of the more important historical Neapolitan Libraries have been poured into the estate of the National, such as the San Giacomo, the Provincial and the san Martino collections.
Among these, the "Brancaccian" is the oldest; inaugurated in 1690, it was the first to be opened to the public.
The Manuscripts and Rare Items Section, one of the most important in Europe, allows a rereading of pages from the history of books.
In fact, there are historical examples of the 11th century Scriptura Beneventana, 14th century text books from the Salerno Medical School, elegant 14th century miniatures from Il Libro delle Ore, examples of Neapolitan Incunabula printed in the Aragon era by Francesco Del Tuppo, and a copy of manuscript of the Gerusalemme conquistata by Tasso.
There is also a rich documentary collection by Leopardi.
In fact, after the Poets death, his manuscript materials remained with his friend Ranieri, who had helped him during the last years of his life, and the family was not able to claim them.
When Ranieri died, one of Leopardis relations recovered the papers, and donated them to the National Library.
Various unpublished writings on Neapolitan playing cards, note books, small pieces of paper and the material published in the Zibaldone are all kept next to the copies of famous cantos such as LInfinito, A Silvia, LUltimo Canto di Saffo.
The hesitation of the Poet before the final editing of his texts transpires from the pages; the dates written on them show how the versions have often been changed more than once, and the difficulties faced with choice of a word are evident; in the correction the handwriting even changes, with a sometimes more decisive stroke.
The Workshop of the Papyri of Herculaneum holds the papyrus scrolls that were discovered between 1752 and 1754 in the Roman villa of the Pisoni family, situated to the North-West of the ancient Herculaneum.
This villa hosted the philosopher Filodemo di Gadara, to whom we owe the formation of the library.
Buried under lava, the papyri underwent a process of combustion which enabled their preservation.
The scrolls look similar to burnt wood, and can be seen in their cabinets in the display room, near the 19th century machine that was invented by the Scolopian Father Antonio Piaggio to unroll the scrolls, in use until the middle of last century, when a group of Norwegian scholars indicated a new method based on the use of gelatine and acetic acid.
Dated between the 3rd century B.C., and the 1st century A.D., the scrolls preserve texts in Greek such as the work Epicure on Nature, the writings by Philodemo of Gadara and the works of epicurean philosophers.
The few scrolls in Latin that were brought to light have handed down comedies, historiographic works such as a poem on The Battle of Azio, and political and legal texts.
The Lucchesi Palli is a library of theatre, music and entertainment.
It was donated to the State in 1888 by Count Febo Edoardo Lucchesi Palli.
The rich collection, whose librarian was Salvatore di Giacomo in 1902 keeps autographed letters by Verdi, autographs of Viviani, sheet music by Paisiello, Rossini and Caruso, numerous theatrical scripts, monographies and periodicals.
The collection of the Aosta Estate were donated to the National Library in 1947 by Elena dOrleans, Duchess of Aosta.
The splendid décor, furniture and spruce bookcases that furnished the estate made up the private library of the noblewoman in the Capodimonte Palace.
The rooms have recently been reorganised and hold a rich book collection and an interesting photographic collection with pictures dating between 1890 and 1930, relating to safais, voyages and private moments in the lives of the Aosta family.
And finally, there are the Africa rooms where, next to the books, there are also curios and hunting trophies, weapons, musical instruments of wood and bone, and some prehistoric items of the Inca population, donated to the Duchess by the Consul of Bolivia. (Raffaella Mafia)

Naples, Piazza del Plebiscito 1 (inside The Royal Palace)

All days from 8.30 to 19.30; on Saturday from 8.30 to 13.30
Sunday closed

How you can get there from the Hotel
From Piazza Amedeo take the bus n° C25 and get off at Piazza Trieste e Trento stop: the National Library is in front of St. Francesco di Paola Church, inside the Royal Palace, in Piazza del Plebiscito 1.


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