1.4.6: 1460 - 1585 - Private libraries (bibliophily)

The ownership of books in the Netherlands was, until well into the fifteenth century, mostly a matter for the higher nobility and for institutions such as monasteries. Non-noble lay persons also possessed books but seldom many. The possession of books increased during the century as is shown indirectly by a rise in manuscript production and the introduction of the printed book. Sixteenth-century humanism promoted the creation of scholarly libraries while increasing literacy and the Reformation brought the book within reach of more and more people.

Bibliophily followed, at a distance, the dissemination of the book described above. In the North, the court of Albrecht of Bavaria, Count of Holland, formed around 1400 a centre of bibliophily for which expensive manuscripts were manufactured. The centre of gravity of bibliophily lay, however, in the South at the Court of Burgundy. Duke Philip the Good (1396-1467) possessed one of the richest collections of his time. Part of the manuscripts - especially those of a religious nature - were produced in Flanders under his patronage. Philip's great-granddaughter, governess Margaret of Austria (1480-1530) showed great interest in the Renaissance and Humanism. She brought part of the scattered Burgundian library together again and added many codices as well as some of the best printed works. Religious writings predominated, but secular literature was also represented. In the library of her successor, Mary of Hungary (1505-1585), history and the sciences were better represented while her interests in music and the writings of Erasmus can also be seen.

In 1544, William of Orange, at the age of 11, inherited René of Chalon's many expensive manuscripts and printed books which were placed in the castle of Breda. When he fled in 1567 various bindings appeared to have been added which had his coat of arms.

Long after the introduction of printing, the image of bibliophily was still determined by manuscripts. Some collectors had a dislike of printed books. Raphael de Marcatellis (1437-1508), illegitimate son of Philip the Good, and himself a great lover of books, had texts copied for his collection from incunabula. Likewise, the patrician Lodewijk van Gruuthuse (1422-1492) of Bruges, owner of the hymnbook manuscript which was named after him, had a luxurious copy made of a 1485 Boëtius edition.

The number of book collectors increased rapidly during the sixteenth century. Marcus Laurinus (1480-1530), also from Bruges, not only brought together an expensive library but also paid for the Officina Goltziana, the first private press in the Netherlands. Like those of Jean Grolier his bindings bear the words 'Marci Laurini et amicorum'. The Amsterdam banker, Pompejus Occo (1480-1537), brought together a library with manuscripts by, among others, the humanist Rudolf Agricola. Extremely celebrated was the library of Canon Jan Dircsz van der Haer of Gorkum (Jan with the Books, † 1538), placed at the Hof van Holland in 1531.

The most important private libraries in the Northern Netherlands, established after about 1550, may be characterised as scholarly libraries, although bibliophily was certainly an issue. Examples are the libraries of Canon Huybert van Buchell of Utrecht (1513-1599) and of diplomat and man of letters, Marnix van Sint Aldegonde (1540-1598).

All these collection activities contributed considerably to the survival of expensive books in particular.

author: W. Heijting

Private libraries (bibliophily)