Librarian Antonio [Anthony] Panizzi was born on 16 September 1797 at Brescello in the Duchy of Modena. He studied at the University of Parma, where he joined a secret society to advance the cause of Italian unity. In September 1820, Duke Francis IV of Modena issued a decree that membership of the Carbonari or similar bodies constituted a criminal offence. An era of repression followed. Panizzi fled to Geneva in October 1822 and from there to London (May 1823) after Italian exiles had been ordered to leave the city. When the University of London was founded in 1828, Panizzi was appointed Professor of Italian. He settled at no. 2 Gower Street.
In April 1831 he joined the British Museum. Panizzi’s friendship with Thomas Grenville caused the latter to bequeath his 20,000 volume library to the Museum. Wit a growing accommodation crisis for books and readers, Panizzi produced a scheme to build a circular reading-room surrounded by bookstacks in the interior quadrangle of the museum. This was constructed between 1854 and 1857 to plans of Sydney Smirke. In March 1856 Panizzi was promoted Principal Librarian. Poor health forced him to resign in 1865. During the 1850s and 1860s he played an important part in the exile community. When Garibaldi paid a visit to London in April 1864, Panizzi accompanied him on a visit to the tomb of Ugo Foscolo at Chiswick. Panizzi died in April 1879 at no. 31 Bloomsbury Square (where he had lived since leaving his residence in the British Museum).