In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Libraries

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Journals
  • Libraries: Ideal, Imaginary, and Real
  • Church and Monastic Libraries
  • French-Speaking Europe
  • German-Speaking Europe
  • Italy
  • Low Countries
  • Spain and New Spain
  • Other European Libraries
  • Individual Libraries

Renaissance and Reformation Libraries
Craig Kallendorf
  • LAST REVIEWED: 26 June 2012
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 June 2012
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399301-0096


History records famous libraries as far back as those of Ashurbanipal (in 7th-century BCE Assyria) and Alexandria, and the medieval culture on which the Renaissance was built had its share of renowned book collections as well. But in the history of libraries, the Renaissance proved to be a crucial period. The invention of the printing press led to an explosion in the number of books, allowing the formation of many more libraries than in the past, with many of them becoming much larger than before. Church and university libraries, the mainstays of medieval book culture, were supplemented by collections under government control, with a growing number of individuals forming important libraries as well. Indeed, the very concept of the Renaissance predicates access to a library, because if Antiquity were to be reborn, the guidelines for this rebirth had to emerge from research into the culture of Greece and Rome, which had to take place in a well-stocked library. At the beginning of the Renaissance, libraries were relatively few and small; at the end, there were many large collections, including the foundations of several of today’s national libraries.

General Overviews

Hobson 1970 is the classic introduction to the world’s great libraries, to be supplemented by Baur-Heinhold 1972 and Staikos 2000. De Smet 2002 explores the role of the library in humanist culture, while Wittmann 1984 focuses on library catalogues, and Canone 1993 presents a series of case studies on libraries from this period.

  • Baur-Heinhold, Margarete. Schöne alte Bibliotheken: Ein Buch vom Zauber ihrer Räume. Munich: Verlag Georg D. W. Callwey, 1972.

    A German-language competitor to Hobson 1970, but with brief entries on many more libraries. Divided geographically, with the best sections being those on England, Italy, and the German-speaking countries.

  • Canone, Eugenio, ed. Bibliothecae selectae da Cusano a Leopardi. Lessico Intellettuale Europeo 58. Florence: Olschki, 1993.

    A volume of case studies focused on individual libraries from the 15th to the 18th centuries, including those of Erasmus, Nicolas of Cusa, Francesco Patrizi, and Hugo Grotius.

  • De Smet, Rudolf, ed. Les humanistes et leur bibliothèque. Leuven, Belgium: Peeters, 2002.

    A collection of essays, three focused generally on the libraries of Renaissance humanists and ten on the collections of such prominent individuals as Erasmus, Montaigne, Rubens, and Vossius.

  • Hobson, Anthony. Great Libraries. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1970.

    The standard work on the world’s great libraries, offering histories of more than a dozen libraries with roots in the Renaissance, along with illustrations of their treasures and suggestions for further reading.

  • Staikos, Konstantinos S. The Great Libraries, from Antiquity to the Renaissance. London: British Library, 2000.

    A lavish volume intended in many ways to update and replace Hobson 1970. Contains a thirty-page chapter on libraries in the Renaissance, followed by detailed descriptions of a dozen important libraries from the period, along with illustrations of some of their key holdings.

  • Wittmann, R. Bücherkataloge als buchgeschichtliche Quellen in der frühen Neuzeit. Wolfenbütteler Schriften zur Geschichte des Buchwesens 10. Wiesbaden, West Germany: Harrassowitz, 1984.

    A collection of essays focused on Renaissance book catalogues, including studies of the libraries of individual humanists, of auction catalogues as sources for the book collections of German Pietists, and of catalogues to public libraries in the early modern period.

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