The collection: manuscripts produced during the Middle Ages (c.800 – c.1550)
Size: c.1,500 manuscripts and fragments
Coverage: the richest collection of illuminated manuscripts in the Netherlands, with highlights from the history of Dutch literature
Access: the manuscripts can be found in the KB Catalogue and at the Medieval Manuscripts in Dutch Collections website; the illuminated manuscripts can be found in Medieval Illuminated Manuscripts. Manuscripts can only be consulted in the Special Collections Reading Room. For the consultation of some of the manuscripts permission of the curator is needed.
More information: Ed van der Vlist, 070-3140406
The KB’s collection of medieval manuscripts has three focal points: illuminated manuscripts, Middle Dutch manuscripts and liturgical manuscripts. These categories overlap occasionally: Middle Dutch and liturgical manuscripts may be illuminated as well. Also, there are manuscript books without illumination that are neither in the vernacular nor liturgical, such as chronicles, saints’ lives, legal, medical and theological writings, and numerous artes texts. New items are still being acquired.
Augustine. La Cité de Dieu. Paris, early fifteenth century. Request no. 72 A 22. Fol. 6r. Opening miniature, God the Father seated on his heavenly throne, surrounded by cherubs.
The Library’s collection is the largest in the Netherlands. Roughly a third of the medieval manuscripts is decorated with miniatures, painted initials, marginal scenes, drawings, other forms of decoration or penwork. As in the present time, in the Middle Ages many kinds of texts were illustrated. The largest group is the more than 250 books of hours and books of prayer, which usually display scenes from the lives of Mary and Christ. Almost all images can be found at the website Medieval Illuminated Manuscripts, where you can search by subject. Beautiful examples of illuminated books of hours include the Zweder book of hours, the book of hours of Philip of Burgundy and the book of hours of Simon de Varie.
Middle Dutch manuscripts
Dutch manuscripts from the Middle Ages are well represented in the National Library. Roughly half of the manuscripts is entirely or partly in the vernacular. Almost all Northern Dutch books of hours are in Dutch. Some luxury manuscripts of literary texts are lavishly decorated, such as the unique manuscript of Beatrijs, Jacob van Maerlant’s Spiegel historiael and Der naturen bloeme, Jacob van Maerlant. However, more modest books such as the Hague Song manuscript and the Lancelot compilation are also important for the history of literature.
Medieval manuscripts in the KB
Many medieval manuscripts have been in the KB since its foundation in 1798. The books origined in the former Stadtholders’ Library. Valuable additions were acquired with the collections of Joost Romswinckel (1807), Jacob Visser (1809), Joseph Désiré Lupus (1823), and Georges-Joseph Gérard (1832). Thanks to the acquisition of these private collections the KB has an extremely varied medieval collection of manuscripts produced in Europe. Since the middle of the nineteenth century, most additions have been books of hours from the Northern Netherlands. New manuscripts are still added to the collection. In recent years, the focus has been on the acquisition of pieces of national or book historical importance. Recent acquisitions include the Trivulzio hours (2001), the Gruuthuse manuscript (2007) the Beyeren Armorial (2009), the Kattendijke Chronicle (2016) and the Nassau-Vianden Armorial (2017)
- Theme Medieval manuscripts on this website
- Medieval Illuminated Manuscripts – records on 331 illuminated manuscripts from the KB and 70 manuscripts from Museum Meermanno; with more than 11,000 illustrations.
- [A.S. Korteweg, C.A. Chavannes-Mazel], Schatten van de Koninklijke Bibliotheek. Acht eeuwen verluchte handschriften. Tentoonstellingscatalogus. ’s-Gravenhage 1980.
- Catalogus van de liturgische handschriften van de Koninklijke Bibliotheek. Samengesteld door P.C. Boeren. Met medewerking van A.S. Korteweg en G. Piket. ’s-Gravenhage 1988.
- Helen C. Wüstefeld, Anne S. Korteweg, Sleutel tot licht. Getijdenboeken in de Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica. Amsterdam 2009.
- Ed van der Vlist, Schitterende schatten. Verluchte handschriften in de Koninklijke Bibliotheek. Amersfoort/Brugge 2011.