Wonders of Nature at the Biblioteca Ambrosiana

Biblioteca Ambrosiana, Ms. D 140 inf., Al-Ǧahiz, Tractatus de Animalibus (Kitāb al-hayawān), f. 10r. fifteenth century, acquired by the Ambrosiana before 1631.
Jan Brueghel, Allegory of Fire, between 1608 and 1610. Source: Wikimedia Commons https://goo.gl/u6NRfb

The Biblioteca Ambrosiana, which opened to the public in 1609, is one of Europe’s first public libraries. Its founder, the cardinal and archbishop Federico Borromeo (1564-1631), sought to recreate a “temple to the muses” in Milan, one that was devoted, on the model of Alexandria, to scholarly reading and writing by bringing together books, scholars paid by the library and a printing press. The spearhead of Catholic culture in seventeenth-century Europe, the Ambrosiana was neither an observatory nor a place for scientific experimentation. However, its collection of objects and books, along with its publications, shed light on the wonders of creation. Federico Borromeo reinterpreted the humanist “chamber of wonders” in the context of the Counter-Reformation.