STACKS ON STACKS

Europe’s extravagant libraries are glorified in a new coffee table book

Look but don’t touch.
Look but don’t touch.
Image: Taschen/Massimo Listri
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A new book, The World’s Most Beautiful Libraries, by Massimo Listri, envisions libraries as art objects.

The book contains photos of the decadent barrel-vaulted ceilings and ornate moldings of 55 libraries in 16 countries (mostly in Europe), dating back to 766. It comes out from Taschen in the US on Aug. 8.

The Italian photographer captured the Biblioteca dei Girolamini, the oldest library in Naples, and Dublin’s Trinity College library, which houses five million volumes. For the most part, these are stately photos, evoking temples of knowledge. Actual readers are altogether absent from the book.

The photos are accompanied by text from Georg Ruppelt and Elisabeth Sladek in English, French, and German, giving historic background on each featured library. For the most part, the histories are dry, but they do contain a few tidbits of trivia: Portugal’s royal library of Mafra, for example, was given special rights by the pope in 1745 to keep books from the Vatican’s Index of Forbidden Books. Only people with permission from the king could access them.

Sainte-Geneviève library, Paris, France
Sainte-Geneviève library, Paris, France
Image: Taschen/Massimo Listri
Strahov Library, Prague, Czech Republic
Strahov Library, Prague, Czech Republic
Image: Taschen/Massimo Listri
The library of the Girolamini, Naples, Italy
The library of the Girolamini, Naples, Italy
Image: Taschen/Massimo Listri
The Mafra Palace library, Mafra, Portugal
The Mafra Palace library, Mafra, Portugal
Image: Taschen/Massimo Listri
Trinity College Library, Dublin, Ireland
Trinity College Library, Dublin, Ireland
Image: Taschen/Massimo Listri
Rijksmuseum research library, Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Rijksmuseum research library, Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Image: Taschen/Massimo Listri
Vatican Apostolic Library, Rome, Italy
Vatican Apostolic Library, Rome, Italy
Image: Taschen/Massimo Listri
Abbey library of Saint Gall, St. Gallen, Switzerland
Abbey library of Saint Gall, St. Gallen, Switzerland
Image: Taschen/Massimo Listri