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Subject guide

Medieval Manuscripts

With its more than 1400 bindings and over a thousand fragments Leiden’s collection of medieval manuscripts (up to ca. 1550) is the largest in the Netherlands.

These numbers and others below are estimates; quite a few manuscripts can be localized or dated only roughly, consist of two of more separate production units or contain texts in more than one language.

  • Manuscripts by origin: Northern and Southern Netherlands (520 items), France (480 items), Italy (380 items) and the German countries (170 items).
  • Manuscripts by language: Latin (1140 items, with over a hundred codices from the ninth century), Greek (270 items), Dutch (400 items), French (60 items) and German (40 items).
  • Manuscripts by collector or fund: Ablaing (42 items). — In de Betouw (4 items). — Bibliotheca Publica Graeca (90 items). — Bibliotheca Publica Latina (670 items). — Burman (5 items). — Gronovius (35 items). — Lipsius (25 items). — Maatschappij der Nederlandse Letterkunde (290 items). — Marchand (1 item). — Meijers (9 items). — Perizonius (55 items). — Ruhnkenius (4 items). — Scaliger (35 items). — Vossius (474 items: 325 latini, 100 graeci, 15 miscellanei, 14 germano-gallici, 30 chymici). — Vulcanius (50 items).
  • Dated manuscripts: 190 items included in CMD-NL: Manuscrits datés conservés dans les Pays-Bas. Catalogue paléographique des manuscrits en écriture latine portant des indications de date. Vol. 1. G.I. Lieftinck, Les manuscrits d’origine étrangère, 816-c.1550 (Amsterdam 1964); Vol. 2. J.P. Gumbert, Les manuscrits d’origine néerlandaise (XIVe-XVIe siècles) et supplément au tome premier (Leiden 1988).
  • Illuminated manuscripts: over 500 manuscripts with miniatures, historiated initials, drawings, decorated margins and initials.
  • Fragments: Ever since the late nineteenth century medieval fragments have been taken from old library bindings, in the process of restoration. This has been the main ‘source’ for the fragment collections. These collections received various shelfmarks in the last century: BPL 2144, BPL 2454, BPL 2513, BPL 2514, BPL 2515, BPL 2552, BPL 2641, BPL 2705, BPL 2888, BPL 3001, BPL 3252, BPL 3254, BPL 3255, BPL 3327, BPL 3503, BPL 3504. Nearly all fragments are described in J.P. Gumbert, Illustrated inventory of medieval manuscripts in Latin script in the Netherlands. Vol. 2. Leiden, Universiteitsbibliotheek BPL (Hilversum 2009).

The Catalogue contains:

  • Short descriptions of all more or less complete medieval manuscripts (500-1500); Most fragments are still lacking. Many records have a link to one or more scans (script specimens). A growing number of manuscripts have been completely digitized; these digital versions have been described in separate records with a link to the scans in Digital Special Collections. All Codices Vossiani Latini have been digitized in collaboration with Brill Publishers in 2015. Leiden students and staff with a ULCN-account can use these digital facsimiles via the online catalogue.
  • Collection guides — The medieval manuscripts are part of several collections: D’Ablaing. — In de Betouw. — Bibliotheca Publica Graeca. — Bibliotheca Publica Latina. — Burman. — Gronovius. — Hemsterhuis. — Lipsius. — Bibliotheek van de Maatschappij der Nederlandse Letterkunde. — Marchand. — Meijers. — Perizonius. — Ruhnkenius. — Scaliger. — Vossius. — Vulcanius.

See also the collection guide about the Bibliotheca Neerlandica Manuscripta, paper documentation on Middle Dutch manuscripts kept world wide, also accessible as a database.

Digital Collections is a database containing digital images of manuscripts, archives, letters and other materials (such as rare books, maps, prints, drawings and photographs).

For most special collection items the online catalogue doesn’t provide in-depth descriptions. More information can be found in printed catalogues and inventories that have been compiled in the course of time. They have been brought together in a separate collection guide: Catalogues of the Holdings of Leiden University Libraries, see the following codes: A 1-9. — A 10.14. — A 10.37. — D 1-7. — D 9-12. — D 15-17. — D 21. — D 30. — M 6.1, with links to the paper copies and digital versions.

The Special Collections Reading Room contains copies of these printed catalogues (DOUSA 80). It also houses the photo documentation of the Leiden medieval manuscripts: 68 volumes with script specimens of nearly every codex, classified according to century and origin (scans of these photos are also available in Digital Special Collections).

  • Literature on codicology and palaeography (Z105-115.5), manuscript illumination (ND2289-2416) and library catalogues (Z6505-6621) are located in the Special Collections Reading Room (second floor, entrance 4, go right).
  • Palaeographical atlases (DOUSA 86) and printed facsimiles (DOUSA 87-88) are located in the Special Collections Reading Room (second floor, entrance 4, go left). For an overview see the subject guide Manuscripts, archives and letters: further information.
  • Documentation on Middle Dutch manuscripts kept world wide (Bibliotheca Neerlandica Manuscripta) and a card file for micro forms of manuscripts kept in other institutions are located in Room 211 (second floor, entrance 5, go right).

Dr Irene O’Daly (Book and Digital Media Studies, Leiden University) discusses the materiality of the codex in eight short video’s: 1. Scripts — 2. Structuring the page — 3. Discontinuous reading — 4. Traces of scribes — 5. Traces of users — 6. Bindings — 7. Composite volumes — 8. Dimensions and forms.

Go to the playlist

All manuscripts shown are available as a digital facsimile. The links can be found in the accompanying texts on YouTube. 

This educational resource presents a selection of digitised manuscripts from Leiden University Libraries, organised in three thematic routes: Books for Professional Use — Liberal Arts and Education — Religion and Devotion.

Each manuscript can be viewed in high resolution and is provided with a summary that helps students understand all aspects of the production and use of manuscripts, including links to a glossary, to Wikipedia, and to specific parts of the manuscript. The study of these manuscripts is guided by a set of questions that can be answered by looking at the digitised objects.

With a codicological introduction Quill. Books before print. Chapters: 1. Choosing a Writing Support — 2. Making Quires and Sheets — 3. Preparing the Page — 4. Copying the Text — 5. Correcting the Text — 6. Decorating the Book — 7. Binding the Book 8. Using the Book.

Go to the website

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