Codices Vossiani Latini

Isaac Vossius was a classical philologist and collector of manuscripts, maps, atlases and printed works. Vossius was born in 1618 as the son of the humanist Gerard Johannes Vossius (1577-1649). In 1648, Isaac started to work as a scholar for Queen Christina of Sweden. After he had sold the famous library of his father to Christina in 1649, Vossius was appointed court librarian a year later, with the task of expanding and cataloguing the library. After a stay of eighteen months in the Republic, partly forced, Vossius returned to Sweden in 1653, where he found his own book collection and the court library in great disarray. When Christina abdicated in 1654, a large part of her library was shipped to Rome. A part of the manuscripts and printed books was, however, taken from Christina’s library by Vossius as compensation for late payments, and for the loss of his own books. At the end of his life Vossius bequeathed his library to the children of his brother Matthaeus.

When negotiations with Oxford University had come to nothing, the heirs accepted an offer from the curators in 1690 to buy the collection for 33,000 guilders on behalf of Leiden University Library. The purchase of the Vossius library caused financial difficulties for Leiden University, but to its library it brought international fame. Especially the manuscripts proved to be of invaluable worth. The purchase of the Vossius library doubled the collection of Leiden University to c. 9,500 books. Doubles were removed from the printed books and these were auctioned in 1706. After ex libris slips had been attached to all title pages, the books were distributed over the existing collection which was grouped according to size and to subject. The manuscripts from Vossius (over 700 items) were always kept separately.

The Codices Vossiani Latini Online publishes all 363 codices which form the world-famous Latin part of Vossius’ manuscript collection held at Leiden University Library. The Codices Vossiani Latini count a large number of early medieval manuscripts (a whopping 76 Carolingian manuscripts dating from before 900), including major sources of many classic texts. Famous are the oldest sources of Lucretius’ De natura rerum, of Cicero’s philosophical works, and the earliest manuscript of Plinius’ Historia naturalis known to be produced north of the Alps (Northumbria, eighth century). Other highlights include an illustrated herbal from around 600 and the Aratea, an astronomical treatise from around 840, manufactured at the court of Louis the Pious with 39 beautiful miniatures of the constellations. A large part of the research done by foreign scholars on Western manuscripts at Leiden University Library focuses on the Vossiani Latini.

The 363 codices in all comprise 40,278 openings, resulting in 84,266 images, including covers and flyleaves.

The manuscript collection are enriched by detailed information drawn from by K. A. de Meyier's catalogues of the codices, providing users, both students and researchers, with essential information on the content, context, and physical appearance of each codex.

Under the Contents TAB you will find three links.

The Manuscript link will lead you to images of that particular manuscript. The images offer an exact copy of the manuscript held at Leiden University Library, and include all spines, covers, and flyleaves.

The Summarized description in English link will lead you to key information on that particular manuscript, taken from the catalog of the Codices Vossiani Latini, published in four parts by K.A. De Meyier in 1973, 1975, 1977 and 1984 (with P.F.J. Obbema) respectively,

The following steps have been taken in order to improve the accuracy and currency of the information provided.

  • Date: sometimes the library catalog of Leiden University and/or the MMDC (Medieval Manuscripts in Dutch Collections) database offer more recent information on when the manuscript was written; this information has been added if diverging from De Meyier’s dates. Links to both resources are offered in the metadata.
  • Contents:
    • De Meyier’s abbreviated citations with regard to critical editions and literature on the manuscripts have been expanded into full references.
    • The critical editions mentioned by De Meyier are often outdated. This shortcoming has been mitigated as much as possible by updating the literature on each manuscript, thereby pointing the reader to the most recent editions. This update has been compiled based on datasheets provided by Leiden University Library and the online database Medioevo Latino, which aims to provide an exhaustive bibliography (literature and critical editions) with regard to medieval sources). As most manuscripts contain several different texts, the bibliographic references have been arranged accordingly, i.e. by text. If certain references treat the manuscript in its entirety, or if it is not clear which part of the manuscript is treated, these have been arranged under ‘General literature’. It should be noted that only those bibliographic references that actually cite the Vossiani manuscripts have been taken into account (which is not necessarily the case when it comes to the critical editions of the sources contained within the manuscript).
  • Author: Latin author names have been anglicized (but are kept in their original form when discussing the contents). The dates of birth and death of the author have also been added, when known.
  • Origin and provenance: here too, more recent information as found in the library catalog of Leiden University and/or the MMDC has been added. Past owners are mentioned when known, and their dates of birth and death have been added when possible.
  • Description: the aim has been to offer a readable text rather than an enumeration of the manuscripts’ codicological characteristics. The description offered here is entirely based on De Meyier’s catalog.
  • Classification: consistency has been chosen over quantity (usually a periodization + a few thematic keywords). As many manuscripts have heterogeneous contents, the classification terms have been attached to each separate text, rather than to the entire manuscript

The Description in De Meyier Catalog link will lead you to the description of the particular manuscript by De Meyier in his catalog mentioned above.

De Meyier’s catalog can also be found in full under the Catalog TAB. De Meyier’s catalog is substantially more detailed than the summary, particularly in terms of codicological and paleographical aspects of the manuscripts. The catalog is in Latin, and so it may be most useful in accompanying detailed study of the manuscript.