Read Like Royalty: Precious Manuscript Exhibition

Anthology of travel literature and texts on the Orient

Originally the prized possessions of royalty, 34 of the most significant illuminated manuscripts from the libraries of Carolingian Emperors, French King Charles V and the Aragonese Kings of Naples are now available in stunning detail online. This new virtual exhibition is called Manuscripts and Princes in Medieval and Renaissance Europe.

Anthology of travel literature and texts on the Orient

‘Anthology of travel literature and texts on the Orient’, 1410-1412.
265 miniatures illustrate the book and each text is introduced by a large painting framed with a splendid vegetal border.
Courtesy of the Bibliothèque Nationale de France.

The selected works include poetry, travel literature, gospels and other religious texts, as well as political and pedagogical writing such as a text in defence of virtuous women by Christine de Pisan, and a treatise on moral and philosophical subjects for the education of princes.

Visitors to the exhibition can flip through the manuscripts page by page, zoom in on high-resolution scans and compare manuscript pages. The provenance and current home of the manuscripts can be explored using ‘Historical’ and ‘Nowadays’ maps.

 Book of hours of Frederic of Aragon

‘Book of hours of Frederic of Aragon’, 1501-1502. A book of hours is a liturgical book made for lay people containing the text of prayers for each hour of the day, and particularly the hours of the Virgin. Three artists collaborated on this manuscript. Courtesy of the Bibliothèque Nationale de France.

The exhibition manuscripts cover European cultural activity during three distinct historical periods: 7th-10th century (Bibliotheca Carolina); 14th-15th century (Library of Charles V and Family); and 15th-16th century (Library of the Aragonese Kings of Naples).

Eminent European scholar Michel Pastoureau, a French specialist in medieval history, says the exhibition is a valuable resource for the academic community: “This groundbreaking, online exhibition presents a wonderful sample of the most representative manuscripts from three famous royal collections.”

The documents featured in the exhibition are among the most significant of more than 1,000 manuscripts. Situated in different locations throughout Europe, the entire collection is being made fully accessible to the public via the websites of Europeana, The European Library, and partner libraries.

“This new exhibition reconstructs, in the form of a virtual library, the most important European royal collections of documents from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance and provides a convenient way to access these rare and precious documents,” says Louise Edwards, General Manager of The European Library.

The digitisation of the manuscripts was done by the Europeana Regia project, with the support of the European Commission. Europeana Regia is a collaboration between five major libraries: Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, Universitat de València Biblioteca Històrica, Herzog August Bibliothek, and Koninklijke Bibliotheek van België.

What’s your favourite of the 34 featured manuscripts? Let us know by posting a comment below.

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