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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.

The overviews in this chapter contain deep links to the online catalogue of Leiden University Libraries. In 2023, about 1800 summary catalogue records in Dutch were replaced by more elaborate descriptions in English. Please note that medieval manuscripts often have approximate creation dates and places, consist of two or more codicological units (with their own creation date and place) and/or contain multiple texts in various languages.

Total number of  records describing medieval items in the catalogue (October 2023): 1800+ manuscripts and fragments:

In 2023, André Bouwman published an easily searchable pdf inventory, which links to the online catalogue for each manuscript and which can also been consulted linking from corresponding catalogue records: Inventory of Western Medieval Manuscripts Held by Leiden University Libraries.

The inventory is derived from the renewed catalogue records in English. Its first section contains for each manuscript a selection of fields from the corresponding record. Part of this information is presented again in the remainder of the inventory, in various useful combinations and indexes.

Content: Preface (p. 7) – Introduction (p. 9-22) – 1. Manuscripts by collection (p. 24-439) – 2. Manuscripts by time and space (p. 440-545) – 3. Texts by author and language (p. 546-714) – Appendix 1: Multilingual manuscripts (p. 715) – Appendix 2: Manuscripts by height, proportion, percentage of written space (p. 718-815) – Appendix 3: Manuscripts with medieval bindings (p. 816-833).

The introduction contains an extensive overview of all Leiden library catalogues printed in the years 1595-2009 and describing medieval manuscripts, with links to digital versions (p. 10-22).

Digital facsimiles of a growing number of medieval manuscripts are available in open access. They are described in separate catalogue records, with links to the scans in the repository Leiden University Libraries | Digital Collections (700+).

Furthermore, in collaboration with Brill Publishers, UBL has digitized its Codices Vossiani Latini (363 items, of which 320 medieval) and Codices Graeci et Miscellanei (216 items, of which 98 medieval). These digital facsimiles are only available (for free) to Leiden staff and students (using the online catalogue and their ULCN-account).

Medieval manuscripts are part of various *funds and collections of former owners (placed together with distinctive shelfmarks). Information about their history, scope and contents is brought together in so-called collection guides. These online resources can be searched in the online catalogue or, more directly, in the management system Leiden University Libraries | Collection Guides.

Collection guides: D’Ablaing. — In de Betouw. — *Bibliotheca Publica Graeca. — *Bibliotheca Publica Latina. — Bibliotheca Thysiana. — Burman. — Gronovius. — Lipsius. — *Maatschappij der Nederlandse Letterkunde (Society of Dutch Literature). — Marchand. — Meijers. — Van OudendorpPerizonius. — Ruhnkenius. — Scaliger. — Vossius. — Vulcanius.

See also the collection guide on the Bibliotheca Neerlandica Manuscripta, with information on Middle Dutch manuscripts kept world wide, including Leiden. Digital versions of its manuscript descriptions – arranged by location and shelfmark – can be accessed using the BNM collection guide. Part of the BNM documentation is also available as a database (BNM-I), hosted by the Huygens Institute for the History of the Netherlands.

Literature on codicology and palaeography (Z105-115.5), manuscript illumination (ND2289-2416) and library catalogues (Z6505-6621) is 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). There you will also find photo documentation of the Leiden medieval manuscripts: 68 ring binders with script specimens of nearly every codex, arranged by century and origin.

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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