The Biblioteca Braidense is one of the grandest public libraries in Italy. Maria Theresa of Austria, whose portrait surveils one of the rooms, established it in the late 18th century to make the collection of books she had acquired from Carlo Pertusati available to the public.
The library opened in 1786 in the Brera Palazzo del Collegio in Milan — where it is still up and running, in the same building as the Pinacoteca, the botanical garden, the observatory, and the art academy.
Although it has been open for 236 years, the Braidense has never been more open to the public than since General Director James M. Bradburne took it under his wing.
In the last few years, the centuries-old institution reinvigorated its initiatives with a plethora of special projects, exhibitions, and events.
Last week, the library unveiled a donation by artist Emilio Isgrò. The work is a reproduction of an autograph copy of the poem “Il cinque maggio” (1822; “The Napoleonic Ode”) by Italian writer Alessandro Manzoni, in the collection of the library. Mr. Isgrò erased portions of the poem — an artistic practice for which he is known and that he has carried out for decades. A catalogue raisonné that will list the output of the artist, edited by art historian Bruno Corà, and published by Skira, was also announced during the occasion.
The Maria Teresa Room houses the exhibition “The Idea of the Library” until July 2 — a rare occasion to see a selection of ancient volumes owned by the late Italian medievalist and philosopher Umberto Eco.
The rare titles in Mr. Eco’s collection, including incunabula, and books printed before the 16th-Century, have been gathered in the “Studiolo.” The new space, open to scholars, preserves as much as possible the original position of the books that Mr. Eco had organized in his house overlooking the Castello Sforzesco in Milan.
Until June 2, the Braidense has planned a rich calendar of events for children and families to mark the ‘Childhood and Adolescence Week’ and the 30th anniversary of the ratification by the Italian Parliament of the ‘UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.’
In a note to the press, Mr. Bradburne renewed the commitment of the library, “and its different twin,” the Pinacoteca, “to upholding the values of a dynamic, diverse, and critical democracy that begins, as it must, with childhood.”
But, who would expect to see a carousel inside a historic library? Yet, for the first time, a hand-drawn wooden carousel with a diameter of more than 5 meters has appeared in the Reading Room.
Riding the carousel brings back fond childhood memories. It is an experience that reminds us about what constitutes being together — without borders.
During a preview, I embarked on the inaugural ride led by Mr. Bradburne, Milan’s deputy mayor Anna Scavuzzo, and Marzia Pontone, the director of the Braidense Library. All the guests, who probably hadn’t been on a ride in a long time, including this reporter, got off amused.
Populated by horsemen, cats, and boats connected to the rotating platform, and made of papier-mâché and cloth by the Pane e Mate Laboratory Theater, the carousel will be the theater in which a slightly modified version of “The Turnip,” an ancient traditional fairy tale about the values of solidarity and generosity, will be read in both Ukrainian and Italian.
The project has also been enriched by a collaboration with Yulia Semyriad, from the O.Gjertsen Library in Kyiv, who fled after the outbreak of the conflict. The Braidense has welcomed her on its team as “visiting librarian.”
“We are not the United Nations, but we can still welcome human beings, giving an immediate response to all refugees, no matter what country they come from,” Mr. Bradburne said. And, in fact, on the carousel, there is a seat for everyone.