In addition to his innovations in sculpture and painting, Michelangelo also experimented with novel architectural forms, like those seen in the Laurentian Library. After he became Pope Clement VII in November of 1523, Guilio de Medici commissioned Michelangelo to construct a library to house his family’s impressive collection of books and manuscripts; it was to become the third story of the already existing monastic buildings dedicated to San Lorenzo in Florence. Construction began in 1524, but was stopped from 1526-1530, and when Michelangelo moved to Rome in 1534 he virtually gave up the project completely. In 1557, he sent a model for the unusual staircase in the entrance hall, but never saw the completed project. The entire structure is characterized by Mannerist elements that give feelings of confusion and instability, and the entrance hall is particularly striking. The superimposed coupled Tuscan columns, which seemingly support the abbreviated entablatures, in reality, provide no structural support, and are recessed in niches as part of the decoration. This remarkable usage of a column as pure ornament proposes the reversal of the functions of wall and column, exploring in architectural terms the struggle between line and mass that is seen in Michelangelo’s early sculpture. The tapering pilasters are revived from Minoan architecture, while the unequal segmentation caused by the variation in surface fluting is brand new. The crowded volutes in the corners produce a sensation that the walls may collapse inward. Michelangelo purportedly received the design for the extraordinary staircase in a dream. While the outer flights of steps progress toward the entrance, the central steps appear to surge downward. The bow-shaped steps are a variation of an oval, the dominant Mannerist form, which was a distortion of the perfect circle favored during the High Renaissance. As one travels up the central stairway, the space becomes thinner and more compressed. Overall, the vestibule appears unbalanced and crowded.
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