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Ma voglio sappiate queste sono cose ample e maggiori a spiegarle che voi forse non istimate. Truovonsi disseminate e quasi nascoste fra molta copia di varii e diversi scrittori, onde volerle racontare tutte e ordinare, e ne’ luoghi suoi porgerle, sarebbe faccenda a qualunque ben dotto molto faticosa. Bisognerebbe avere assai prima ripensato, riscelto e meglio rassettato ogni parte. […] Così a me testé interverria sanza avere prima in me dilucidato lo ’intelletto mio con molto studio e lezione di molti scrittori, distinguendo e ordinando come chi conscende a mezzo del campo perducendo le schiere ed esserciti suoi (L.B. ALBERTI, Libri della famiglia, I).
In this way Alberti presents his method of writing: to write is to restructure knowledge. The exhibition shows the original manuscripts where Alberti composed, amended, revised and rearranged his works: we have therefore the chance to see the author at work on his texts, while he writes, reworks or reviews.
However not all of his original manuscripts have survived: some of them in our possession are merely copies. We have selected manuscripts recreated by copyists who were close to Alberti and his family, valuable witnesses to the circulation of the first texts and amount of interest they caused.
Ahead of these manuscripts are three fundamental collections which group almost all of Alberti’s known writings. The manuscript with the writings in the Vulgar tongue was requested by Alberti himself (no. 14). The two manuscripts composed in Latin were written upon the initiative of a possessor (probably the doctor-astrologer Pierleone da Spoleto) with a decided interest in Alberti (no. 15 - 16). Next follow several manuscripts concerning one or more works, which have been selected to represent the major content of the texts and displayed in chronological order of composition.
The most revealing autographs have been indicated here: some pages of the collection of writings in the Vulgar tongue, full of amendments, kept in the Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale of Florence (no. 14); the manuscript of the Biblioteca Riccardiana with a tormented auctorial revision of Musca and Vita S. Potiti (no. 20); Alberti’s own version of the Mirtia elegy; the autographical work of Ordine delle Lettere which certify the authenticity of Alberti’s authorship of the Grammar of the vulgar language; various autographic traces spread throughout copies of the Libri della famiglia, specifically the codex of the Biblioteca Municipale of Imola which includes the fourth heavily revised book; two copies of Momus (no. 49 - 50) equally reworked and amended by the author perhaps in various times and places; the autographic fascicle in the manuscript at Eton (no. 52) of Alberti’s most famous work, De re aedificatoria. And finally the only remaining witness to Alberti’s architectural drawings (except the little sketch in a letter to Matteo de’ Pasti) and treasured at the Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana, along with a miscellaneous collection of drawings of various origins (no. 51): perhaps plans of thermal baths whose location has not yet been specified. The latter, together with the symbolic image of the winged eye, still without conclusive interpretation (no. 14), is the emblem of all that remains to be studied in order to fully comprehend Alberti and his works.