The Federiciana Room of the Ambrosiana is the ancient reading room of the Library. It was projected at the beginnings of the 17th century by architect Lelio Buzzi and then completed by Fabio Mangone.
The room still appears as the Cardinal wanted it to do. Together with his architects, he certainly examined Europe’s most modern libraries’projects with care, taking particular inspiration from Philippe II’s library at the Escorial in Madrid, introducing important innovations at the same time. As at the Escorial, in the Federiciana the reader’s desks were not separated, with an own window each, nor were the books locked to the desks. This allowed to have much more space for the bookshelves, which were running continuously along the walls. In order to optimize the available space, Federico chose to put a balcony half way of the walls, which was reachable using the stairs and which allowed to get to the higher shelves. At the same time he abolished the space for the windows at the ground floor. The illumination was assured by two big windows at the two sides of the big vault, so to keep the direct light away from the readers’desks. The vault itself, plastered in white, contributed to spread the light evenly into the room.
The Cardinal wanted to place a gallery of portraits of notable men at the base of the vault and on the balcony, so to prove the roots and the continuity of the catholic tradition. It is a series of portraits of saints and ecclesiastic people mainly, with a good presence of lay people too.
When the Ambrosiana was inaugurated, its collection consisted of around 15.000 manuscripts and 30.000 print art works, surpassing even older libraries: for example, the Biblioteca Vaticana’s printed texts collection was seven times smaller than the Ambrosiana’s one.
In a few years the Ambrosiana became a real point of reference for the whole Europe’s scholars, as the French writer and librarian Gabriel Naudè wrote in 1627: «Talking about the Biblioteca Ambrosiana…it surpasses all of the others [libraries] in size and greatness. Nothing is more extraordinary than [the thing that] everyone could enter the library at any reasonable time and remain there for all the time he wants to, consulting the documents of every author he is interested about. With no other difficulties, the visitor can get there during the normal working day’s opening hours, and ask the librarian, or one of his three assistants, for the books he wants to read. The librarians are well paid and well treated, so that they are always careful of what belongs to the Biblioteca and of the people who get there every day…».
Unfortunately in 1943 the Federiciana, together with other rooms of the Ambrosiana, was heavily damaged by the bombings: lots of fire bombs’ pieces pierced the room’s shields causing the collapse of the walls and of the bookshelves, and the consequent books’ incineration. It was then brought back to its splendour in the postwar years, but it remained usually closed until 2009, when it was chosen as the main exhibition hall for the Codex Atlanticus.