Late Medieval and Early Modern Libraries as Knowledge Repositories, Guardians of Tradition and Catalysts of Change (Lamemoli). A book historical project financed by the Academy of Finland and University of Jyväskylä (no. 307635, 1 September 2017-31 May 2022)



Research team

The team at the Fourth NNRS Conference, Helsinki 28 September 2018
Left to right: Marianne Pade, Bernd Roling, Susanna Niiranen, Miika Kuha, Outi Merisalo, Benjamin Wallura, Giovanna Murano, Jakub Kujawinski and Lorenzo Amato


Lorenzo Amato (post doc, University of Tokyo/University of Jyväskylä)

Miika Kuha (post-doc researcher, University of Jyväskylä)

Jakub Kujawinski (researcher, University of Helsinki/University of Poznan)

Outi Merisalo (head of the project, University of Jyväskylä)

Giovanna Murano (researcher, Florence)

Susanna Niiranen (researcher, vice-head of the project, University of Jyväskylä)

Marianne Pade (researcher, University of Aarhus)

Bernd Roling (researcher, Freie Universität Berlin)

Benjamin Wallura (post-doc researcher, University of Jyväskylä/

Freie Universität Berlin)



Libraries are an important factor in preserving and transmitting knowledge, thus contributing to historical continuity. The very concept of simultaneous availability of different texts transmitting possibly contradictory ideas, however, implies a great potential for engaging readers in new ways of thinking, thus promoting change. In addition to transmitting texts, historical libraries would often also be perceived as objects of material and spiritual value enhancing the prestige of their owner, e.g. contributing to the image-building of the political entities ruled by emperors, kings and princes. The history of libraries is an important field of book history, which, in its most extensive sense, studies both the material characteristics and the contents of books in their cultural context. While the history of individual libraries of the Antiquity (e.g. the Museum of Alexandria), the Middle Ages (e.g. monastic libraries, such as Monte Cassino and St Gall, secular libraries, such as the court library of Charlemagne, the libraries of the kings of France and dukes of Burgundy) and the Renaissance (e.g. the Vatican library and princely libraries) have been treated in various detail, no large-scale study of the impact of Late Medieval and Early Modern libraries as knowledge repositories and guardians of tradition, on the one hand, and catalysts of change, on the other, seems to exist.

Responding to such a research gap, the project covers a period of intense mediatic (transition from the handwritten to the printed book), cultural (transition from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance and Baroque periods), religious (exasperation of confessional conflicts) and political change (emergence and consolidation of the Early Modern State) in Western Europe, i.e. between c. 1250 and c. 1650. In order to cope with the multiple challenges of the period, libraries had to be protected from destruction (e.g. repairs to old volumes) and renewed (production and acquisition of new volumes; construction of new buildings). The period also witnesses the emergence of increasingly sophisticated thematic cataloguing systems facilitating information retrieval. It is also characterised by the emergence of strongly specialised collections, starting from partly specialised monastic and university libraries of the 13th-15th centuries and ending with the scholarly libraries of academies, learned societies and some princely institutions. From the 15th c. onwards, there is an increasing amount of libraries of a public character (e.g. the library housed at S. Marco in Florence, the Vatican Library and the Bodleian), catering for an unprecedented diversification and multiplication of readers. Last but not least, by the end of the 15th c. printing revolutionises the processes of book production, making it considerably cheaper to build up book collections.

This book historical project will a) reconstruct six, demonstrably important but hitherto poorly studied collections known to have existed in the period considered, b) examine the preserved volumes for annotations and other reader reactions, placed in their cultural context and c) study available (near-)contemporaneous metatexts (library histories, mentions of a given library in texts produced by readers, etc.) on the collections under consideration, in order to assess the role of the six libraries in preserving and transmitting knowledge as well as catalysing new ways of thinking.

The project will pursue and develop the book historical methodology and draw upon the findings of the PI’s AoF book historical projects no. 121785 Books in transition (2008-2011, BIT) and no. 267518 Transmission of Knowledge in the Late Middle Ages and the Renaissance (2013-2017, Tralmar), thus breaking new ground in the study of the formation, intellectual role and social impact of book collections.


The corpus will consist of the following sections. The choice of the specific six collections is motivated on the one hand by their having belonged to institutions (both long-established and newly founded) or individuals of great political, cultural and/or religious importance, and, on the other, their underexplored character. The geographical coverage of the materials extends from Southern Europe to Central and Northern Europe.

1) A library updated. Contemporary works in the papal library (thirteenth-fourteenth c.)

(J. Kujawinski)

While medieval libraries have been extensively searched for Classical and Patristic authors, the readiness of medieval repositories to acquire the most recent works has received less attention from the scholarship. This sub-project seeks to assess the presence of recent works in the papal library, from Boniface VIII (1294-1303) to Gregory XI (1370-1378). Recent works are  defined, for the sake of this study, as works of the authors who were active within fifty years before the registration of their work in the library. A series of inventories, together with the records of book expenses, papal correspondence and the extant manuscripts provide grounds for an attempt at establishing the ratio of modern literature. The papal library will be compared with selected other contemporary libraries of different kinds: court libraries, collections of university colleges, conventual and monastic libraries. A study of the receptivity towards modern works is also one of the means to assess the role that libraries played in the process of publishing new works in the culture of a manuscript book. The sub-project is conducted in collaboration with the ERC project Medieval Publishing from c. 1000 to 1500" (PI Samu Niskanen, University of Helsinki) 


2) The library of Giovanni Pico della Mirandola (1463 – 1494) (O. Merisalo, G. Murano, M. Pade) 

The Italian humanist and philosopher G. Pico della Mirandola (1463 – 1494), now acknowledged as one of the most original thinkers of the 15th c., owned one of the largest private libraries of his time. Pico had assembled it at great expense for scholarly purposes (Greek, Hebrew and Arabic philosophy, theology and science; cf. his Oratio de hominis dignitateApologia and correspondence). Pico also employed scholars such as E. del Medigo (c. 1460-c. 1493) and Y. Alemanno (c. 1434-post 1504) for Latin translations of Hebrew works. From the successive owner of the library, Cardinal D. Grimani (1461–1523), most of the collection was passed on to the monastery of S. Antonio del Castello (Venice) in 1523 and by 1650 largely dispersed (to e.g. J.J. Fugger, J. Hurault de Boistaillé; 41 mss. left in 1650). The monastery having been sevely damaged in a 1687 fire, the library was long believed to have perished as well (P. Kibre, E. Garin); however, over 100 existing volumes have so far been identified. This subproject will reconstruct Pico’s library holdings, also through a new, annotated edition of the inventories), trace a maximum of preserved volumes through a systematical examination of repositories, study the physical witnesses (palaeography, codicology, annotations etc.) and metatexts to assess reader reactions. 

3) The library of Doge Leonardo Donà (1536–1612) (M. Kuha) 

Doge Leonardo Donà’s was one of the richest private libraries in Early Modern Venice with c. 750 printed and 80 handwritten books, functioning as a repository of information on governmental matters. The importance of this aspect is indicated e.g. by numerous historical works and maps also reflecting the patron’s general interests. Donà’s engagement is shown by an autograph library catalogue with bibliographical information and personal comments as well as numerous volumes with owner’s annotations. The mss. of the Donà Dalle Rose family library (c. 500 items) were donated to the Correr Museum Library in 1881. 

4) The books of Catherine Jagiellon and King Sigismund Vasa of Sweden (S. Niiranen)

 This study will enhance the understanding of the importance of book culture to how royal families and emerging nation-states (e.g. Sweden) would shape their identities, which were more transnational and transcultural than traditionally assumed. While the libraries of both the Jagiellonians and the Vasa dynasty have received some scholarly attention, the private book collections of Catherine Jagiellon, Duchess of Finland and Queen of Sweden, and her son, King Sigismund Vasa, are still underexplored. The study will 1) aim at identifying the volumes of Jagiello-Vasa provenance (currently known: c. 50 ms. and printed books) preserved in mainly Swedish, Danish and Finnish repositories in order to determine the period of accession (during the lifetime of Catherine and Sigismund? As war booty in the 17th century, Sigismund having taken part of his library to Poland on losing the Swedish throne?); 2) explore the use made, either by Catherine and Sigismund or by later owners, of these volumes, of considerable cultural, scientific and religious interest, e.g. in shaping the identity of late 16th- 17th-century Sweden rising to the status of a Great Power. The study will build on Niiranen’s work at the ERC project The Jagiellonians. Dynasty, memory and identity (PI N. Nowakowska, U. Oxford, 2015-2016).

5) The Library of Duke Julius of Brunswick-Lüneburg at Helmstedt (Bibliotheca Julia) (B. Roling, B. Wallura). 

The subproject reconstructs and examines the library established by Julius, Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg (1528-1598) in Wolfenbüttel and Helmstedt, with special attention to its role in the development of Early Modern Medieval studies in the 17th century. Since the establishment of the Reformation in 1568, the Duke assembled a considerable library of manuscripts from Lower Saxon monasteries and c. 500 printed books for the Ducal university of Helmstedt (Bibliotheca Julia, 1576). Despite considerable progress in cataloguing the collections of the Herzog-August-Bibliothek Wolfenbüttel (HAB), housing the ex-Helmstedt library, the early decades of the Bibliotheca Julia as well as its role in the formation of Early Modern medievistics are still unexplored. Its importance for the University of Helmstedt (1576-1810) has always been well known. 

6) The library of Gian Battista Strozzi the Younger (L. Amato). 

G.B.Strozzi the Younger (1551-1634), celebrated author and cultural manager (head of the Florentine Accademia degli alterati, 1571-1634), built up an important library of arts and sciences, financed a number of artists and scientists and was in contact with such important intellectuals as T. Tasso, V. and G. Galilei and Paracelsus. Due to direct use of his library by e.g. Galilei and Paracelsus, his collection influenced 16th-17th-c. arts (e.g. literature and music), and science (e.g. architecture, medicine). This subproject will reconstruct, through Giovan Battista's letters and the inventories made by his heir, Carlo Strozzi (1587-1670) the library holdings and assess the impact of the library on contemporary and immediately successive readership. 


Calendar of events