The Biblioteca Palatina (also known as Reale Biblioteca Parmense, Biblioteca Nazionale, Bibliothèque Imperiale, Bibliothèque de la Ville de Parme, Biblioteca Ducale, Biblioteca Nazionale.) was founded on 1st August 1761 when by decree Philip of Bourbon, Duke of Parma, Piacenza and Guastalla appointed Paolo Maria Paciaudi “Antiquarian and Librarian’. This decree expresses clearly Philip of Bourbon’s desire to endow the duchy with a public library, thus following the ambitious and enlightened cultural project promoted by his learned prime minister Guillaume Du Tillot.
The library was supposed to support education in every field of knowledge in a State where culture was in great decline. Furthermore there was not a pre-existing book collection to work from as Charles, Philip’s brother had transferred the library, archives and art treasures which the Farnese had owned in Parma to Naples in 1736. Paciaudi had arrived in Parma in 1762, after travelling to France where he had met politicians, courtiers and intellectuals, visited libraries and studied their regulations; having failed to purchase two ready made collections , viz. the library of Cardinal Dominic Passionei in Rome and the less important one belonging to the Pertusati family in Milan, he acquired thousands of books perusing catalogues by editors and antiquarians together with the help of hundreds of correspondents all over Italy and Europe. He ordered the Library’s books according to content, dividing them into six main classes: Theology, Law, Philosophy, History, Philology, Liberal and Mechanical Arts. The books were placed on the wooden Neoclassical shelving designed by the French architect E.A.Petitot, in the Pilotta Palace, housed in the long corridor that is known today as the Galleria Petitot.
Whilst cataloguing the Library’s book material he introduced the the card catalogue, a great novelty for the time (at least in Italy). Information on each book was not recorded in a bound register, but on single cards which comprised more traditional data such as author, title, typographical notes but also special bibliographical notes on the author, value of the contents and edition; shelf-mark and subject classification. He gave special attention to the manuscript collection: he wrote introductions for each item (often bound together with the codex); similarly he wrote introductions for the rare printed books and had them rebound lavishly (gold stamp on exquisite leather). These bindings all have a common feature: the super libros “Bibliotheca Regia Parmensis” on top of the three Bourbon lilies. In order to satisfy the needs of the Library and the printing establishment of his friend Giambattista Bodoni he sent for the French court binder Louis Antoine Laferté. The latter was famous also for his production of marbled paper and woodcuts. The Library was appointed legal deposit in 1768 and was inaugurated in May 1769 in the presence of Joseph II, Emperor of Austria, brother in law of Ferdinand of Bourbon who succeeded to his father in 1765 in the Duchy.
The fall of Du Tillot in 1771 involved Paciaudi as well and, consequently, in 1774 the latter asked to be freed of his charge. His successor was Father Andrea Mazza but only for a few years. The Duke in 1778 called Paciaudi back and offered him once again his old place as Director of the Library. He held the post until his death in 1785. Ireneo Affò succeeded Paciaudi as the Library’s director. Under his directorship, in 1791, a new hall was opened, the Galleria dell’Incoronata, which communicates with the Galleria Petitot. The new Gallery was furnished by Drugmann in a more severe style. When Affò died in 1797, he was substituted by the former Jesuit, Father Matteo Luigi Canonici. The latter was far more interested in his own collection of manuscripts and rare items than in the Library. His directorship finished in 1805 and left no trace in the Library’s history In January 1804 by wish of Moreau de Saint-Méry, the French Administrator of the Duchies, Angelo Pezzana was appointed Secretary of the Library. He then became the Library’s Director and ruled until his death in 1862. His directorship coincided with a period of great change for the city of Parma: from French to Absburg rule in 1818 under Duchess Maria Luigia, a liberal sovereign who benefited the Library in many ways: augmenting the collections, embellishing spaces and creating new reading rooms. From 1 January 1818 the Library once again was funded by the Duchy’s Treasury. Thus, Pezzana was able not only to provide for ordinary new acquisitions, but also to purchase important manuscript and printed collections: the library of Giovanni Bernardo De Rossi, expert in Eastern studies, the Albergati – Capacelli collection, the Carte Casapini, the Collection of drawings and engravings once belonging to Massimiliano Ortalli and Raffaele Balestra, the libraries once owned by Bartolomeo Gamba, Michele Colombo and Giovanni Bonaventura Porta, the typographical material belonging to Giovanni Battista Bodoni, and the Stern-Bisliches Jewish Collection. He organized the Library’s books into five main classes: Theology, Law, Science and Arts, Literature, History; he continued Paciaudi’s card catalogue up until the 1840’s. He also worked on a Catalogue in volumes in alphabetical order and produced a subject Catalogue. He had a room built in 1820 to host the De Rossi collection and had it furnished appropriately; between 1830 and 1834 he commissioned a new reading room, the ‘Salone Maria Luigia’ which was wide, full of light and big enough to host around 26.000 volumes; due to the Sovereign’s interest in the figurative arts it was also possible for Francesco Scaramuzza to paint between 1841 and 1857 the frescoes inspired by Dante’s Divine Comedy in the so-called Librarian’s Chamber (now Sala Dante).
Pezzana’s successor, Federico Odorici directed the Library between 1862 and 1876 during the first years of the united Italian State. His activity was focused mainly on satisfying the continuous requests coming from the new government concerning the consistency of the Library. The latter was deprived of the status of National Library, albeit in a tiny State, to that of a library together with many others in Italian territory. Under Odorici, in 1865 the Palatine collection was acquired. This consisted of a private collection of the Dukes of Bourbon Parma and comprised many precious manuscripts and rare printed books. Odorici composed the first history of the Library and ordered the manuscripts belonging to the Parmense collection. In so doing, he prepared the collection’s Catalogue together with his main collaborator Luigi Barbieri. Pietro Perrea, who was responsible for the Catalogue of Hebrew manuscripts apart from those once belonging to De Rossi, directed the Library between 1876 and 1888. He bequeathed the Library with a rich collection of manuscripts and printed books. Under the direction of Luigi Rossi (1888-1893) manuscript and printed materials of musical interest were transferred in 1889 to the newly funded Musical Section of the Library.
Under Edoardo Alvisi’s direction (1893-1915) the contents belonging to Paciaudi’s card catalogue were copied into a series of large volumes together with data concerning new acquistions and donations; subject catalogues were prepared; the Major of Parma, Giovanni Mariotti wishing to free Piazzale della Pace (the square in front of the Pilotta) from unsightly buildings had demolished the part which hosted the De Rossi collection which Pezzana had built next to the Galleria dell’Incornata. Mariotti had a room built in another section of the Pilotta, communicating with the Salone Maria Luigia. The new room was identical to the previous one so all the old furnishings could be reused. His successors Carlo Frati (1915-1918), Girolamo Dell’Acqua (1918-1922) and Antonio Maria Boselli (1922-1927) all had to fight against the financial problems caused by the first World War: Boselli for example was forced to interrupt the Library’s subscription to many prestigious Italian and foreign journals. During the 20th century the Library was also deprived of parts of its collections: in the Twenty’s documents were consigned to the State Archives in Parma; in 1934 the director Pietro Zorzanello was forced to ‘give back’ to the State Library in Lucca more than one hundred manuscripts concerning the history of the town belonging to the Palatine collection. This loss was only partially compensated the following year by the acquisition of Mansueto Tarchioni’s library. The latter consisted of around 18.000 volumes and 1.000 booklets. When he was transferred for not complying with Fascist orders, Zorzanello left to the Library his card catalogue of incunabula. He was followed by Giovanni Masi (1935-1952) who faced with great courage and determination the rebuilding of the Library after the English air raid which destroyed part of the Pilotta between April and May 1944. Around 21.000 volumes of the Library were lost amongst the ruins. Nevertheless in 1950 he managed to increase the Library’s collections by acquiring the books of Mario Ferrarini. Maria Teresa Daniela Polidori (1952-1957) inaugurated the restored Galleria Petitot. The bibliophile Angelo Ciavarella directed the Library up until 1973. He involved both authorities and institutions of the city of Parma in the problems of the Library and in the necessity of creating a museum in order to valorise the figure and production of Bodoni. Thus in 1960 he founded the Bodoni Museum and in 1964 the Library acquired the Micheli – Mariotti collection. After brief directorships of Diego Maltese (1973), Serenella Baldelli Cherubini (1973-1978), Carla Guiducci Bonanni (1979) and a number of regencies, the Library was directed by Leonardo Farinelli (1991-2007). For many years the Library had been closed due to necessary refurbishment works (1983-1991), so Farinelli tried in every way to reintroduce the Library in the cultural context of the town: he introduced in the Library services and promoted all sorts of activities with local schools; he acquired the libraries belonging to Bertani, Angelo Ciavarella, the Salvadori – Bovi family, the archives of the members of Parliament Carlo Buzzi and Andrea Borri, as well as the journalist Baldassarre Molossi. In 1994 the Oriental collections were augmented with the purchase of the corpus of Ethiopian manuscripts belonging to Antonio Mordini and successively of 19 other Ethiopian codices.