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Current time:0:00Total duration:7:58

Video transcript

we're in the vast complex that is San Lorenzo in Florence in my glandular laurentian library vestibule that is the staircase moving up into the library itself well it's a whole room including a staircase that moves up into the library the staircase is broad and spills out into this room which is itself quite small it leaves almost no space in front of the staircase the staircase has such a sense of momentum because it seems to literally at least in its central aisle to pour forward almost as if it's pools of liquid we don't feel like the wall that's opposite it gives it enough room for it to continue and it might actually this one swamp us yeah I was not at all prepared for how overwhelming the staircase would be in this space it just fills it up the staircase has two rectilinear aisles on either side and they make the organic quality of the central piece feel even more round even more liquid the staircase is thought to be perhaps the very first freestanding staircase in architectural history it's made out of the same cool grey stone that Brunelleschi had so often used in the previous century although the plan was to make it out of wood yeah the original specs by Michelangelo were that these were to be made out of walnut which would have matched very nicely the desks and the wood in the library above seeming as if the library itself was somehow pouring out and down and it would have warmed up the space a little bit more I think and of course the space is intensified not only because of scale of the staircase in a relationship to the cubic dimensions of the room but also because of the wael structures that Michelangelo creates that surround the staircase the walls are well are their walls it's hard to find the walls because Michelangelo has covered them with various elements borrowed from classical antiquity but really transformed described as Mannerist architecture and I think it makes sense to use that term because when we think about manners and we think about flaunting of the rules if anything classical architecture has lots of rules about how things are used which element goes where what the proportions are and Michelangelo is disregarding all of that and recombining there's a kind of freedom here and from that weight of classical antiquity so previous to this when architects look back to the classical tradition they looked back to the books of Vitruvius they looked back to rules and you're absolutely right Michelangelo is in a sense taking the letter forms of antiquity but creating new words out of them these are clearly columns pediments plasters but they're used in combined in ways that have never existed in the history of architecture previous so let's just point out a few elements one of the most obvious as we stand down at the bottom are the brackets which were usually used as an ornamental expression of support for something heavy above and which Michelangelo used in the new sacristy in that way but here he's lifted them out of that context and instead they hang as opposed to support something over them so they have absolutely no purpose but they are even more powerful and even more muscular they're oversized especially considering how low down on the floor and so they are a clear signal to anybody walking to this room here's a vocabulary that is being reinvented reused and then reset they're sort of set back into the wall and then we also notice other things like the plasters that frame these blind windows on either side of the doorway would taper downward and which have fluting only at the bottom so the tapering downward is a sort of the oddest kind of reversal the ancient Greeks often tapered upward in order to create the illusion of height but here we have that reversal and it is this very curious willful reconfiguration the columns are virtually freestanding but are existing in niches as if they are sculpture and I think that's a metaphor that's important from a glandular he is first and foremost a sculptor but he comes to Architecture and here frames architecture as if it were a figure as if this was sculpture but there are some very strange passages that result not only do we have a sense that they are decorative when in fact studies have shown that those encased columns are actually structural which is an unexpected flip but as those columns and those bays for the columns meet the corners you have the columns actually separated by a kind of internal double-edged plaster and so how does that even work it's absurd for me to even call them plasters and yet that's what they must be it really feels as though those mourners where we see the Capitals come together in the plaster in between and these embedded columns almost like there's over world behind the wall there's something mysterious in the corners and around and behind them this drama there's mystery and there's a kind of invitation to understand that these are elements that can be moved and changed that pushes beyond the kind of stricture with which classicism have been understood for so long it all implies a kind of virtuosity and his knowledge of the classical forms and to subvert them this is a space that speaks to Michelangelo's supreme self-confidence should we walk upstairs and go to library we've walked up the staircase past the Eddie's the pool at the sides of each of the stairs and we've entered into the library which is a much warmer space because the coffered ceiling and all of the stalls for reading all of this designed by Michelangelo after the drama of the vestibule there's definitely a sense of relief and calm entering this library space it's a serious space and you feel that through the vocabulary of classicism being used in a more orderly manner Michelangelo's still crowding the walls with these plasters that seem very severe the molding the blind frames at the top level above the windows windows are quite large meant to let in as much natural light to assist the readers as possible so you also have a very strong horizontal element formed by cornices above the windows and a kind of false clear story creating real sense of perspective and rhythm and a kind of unity so that as a reader perhaps you feel as if you're one among engaged in a serious Act this was a library that contained the manuscripts of the Medici family it's sort of useful to remember that books were among the most precious objects that one could own there were in paperbacks these were handmade objects this is a room that really is a physical expression of the importance of learning in 15th and 16th century Florence can imagine a better exemplar and the importance of the classical as only a point of origin only a point of departure walking out of the library and back down into micheladas vestibule you're really struck by just how he separates the library and its sense of the rarefied from the world yeah the vestibule really does provide a kind of point of transition when you come out of the library and you see that staircase with a rather steep angle pouring down into this very narrow space you really feel like you're leaving one world and entering another and then of course when you step out of the vestibule and into the cloister we're yet in another world again so even in this spiritual space of contemplation of the cloister itself an ancient tradition that is so different such a radical departure from the intensified invented environment that Michelangelo has created