ASSOCIATES (2006, November, v. 13, no. 2) -

Jean Turner Weiss
University Libraries
University of California, Riverside

Twelve elegant libraries carry you back to the past through the frosty white ornamentation of the Rococo to the massive columns, coffered ceilings, balustrades, and statuary of various styles dating from the 15th century to 1929. The Renaissance Library Calendar 2007 represents the winners of the annual competition of the world’s most beautiful old libraries nominated by librarians, information professionals, and book lovers in over 40 countries. Although only eight countries are actually represented, there is a remarkable range of styles and subject matter among the ecclesiastical, research, museum, royal, law and public/private libraries.

Beautifully photographed interiors beckon you in for closer examination. In the quietude of the Franciscan Monastery Library, Schwaz, Austria, and the Bolton Library, Cashel, Ireland, central aisles are flanked by towering ranges of books. The monastery collection, entered through a stone portal, was mainly acquired after Emperor Joseph II abolished the Franciscan Monastery in Innsbruck and a fire largely destroyed the Franciscan Monastery in Rutte. Dealing with an attack of mold will sadden the monastery’s 500th anniversary celebration in 2007. The Bolton Library, founded in the 1730s, was originally the private library of Archbishop Bolton. Subject matter ranging from history to theology includes some finely illustrated early Bibles and Dante’s Divine Comedy from 1512.

Most of the libraries are furnished with comfortable study areas surrounded by books. The Uffizi Library, Florence, is housed in the former Medici theater and specializes in art of the Uffizi Gallery and history of the Florentine museums. Only faculty and students of the University of St. Mary of the Lake/ Mundelein Seminary near Chicago are permitted to use the Feehan Memorial Library. The luxurious interior resembles the library of Rome’s Palazzo Barberini and houses over 180,000 books on philosophy and theology.

The two lavish German Rococo treasures both originated as monastery libraries built by nobility. St Peter Abbey Library in the Black Forest is decorated with paintings over the bookshelves illustrating the major fields of knowledge. Geography, astronomy, and literature of the Enlightenment are subjects of a portion of books remaining after much of the collection was lost in 1806 with the coming of secularization (see photo). The splendid Bibliothekssaal of Wiblingen Monastery, Ulm, was originally designed as a reception hall. Multicolored marble Corinthian columns topped with gilded capitals support the decorative balustrade. The ceiling fresco and dramatic statuary enhance the elegance. Today the monastery is used by an old people’s home and the University of Ulm.

In the Rococo libraries architectural opulence overshadows the books. A notable contrast is the 15th century Ajuda Library, Lisbon, where three kilometers of shelves encircle the walls from floor to ceiling. Despite losses from the 1755 earthquake, a relocation (later partially returned) to Rio de Janeiro and mergers with other libraries, the 150,000 manuscript collection remains particularly impressive with its resources on chamber music and opera of the 18th century.

Two member-supported libraries share their origins in the early 19th century with specialized collections housed in spacious neo-classical buildings. The Law Society Library, London, was founded in 1825 by a group of attorneys intent on creating a meeting place, club rooms and library. A skylight illuminates the wall-covered shelves of legal publications relating to the British Isles. Although it is not open to the public, its members can appreciate the substantial legal histories and superseded textbooks. The Athenaeum, Philadelphia, built in the Italianate Revival Style, is proud of its resources on American architecture and interior design history. These include 250,000 original architectural drawings and 300,000 historic photographs. The research library is not only open to qualified readers free of charge, but also maintains a free web site with over 100,000 images of photographs, prints, and drawings.

The John Carter Brown Library, Providence, Rhode Island, also specializes in Americana and has extensive holdings in the literature of European exploration and travel in the Western hemisphere from 1492 to circa 1825. A substantial number of sources can be found in the American Antiquarian Society, Worcester, Massachusetts, whose mission it is to make available written records from the first European settlement through 1876. These documents include three million books, pamphlets, newspapers, periodicals, graphic arts materials, and manuscripts.

Perhaps the most remarkable library is the Bibliotheca Thysiana, Leiden (see photo). It is the only Dutch 17th century private library which has survived intact in its original setting, presumably because it was forgotten. Before the young Leiden scholar Joannes Thysius (1622-1653) died, he collected books in all fields of science and even the best editions of classical authors. We know from his account book, which has been preserved, that he was very active at book auctions. His good example of a late humanist collection is housed in a Dutch classicist style building with holdings listed in the catalog of the Leiden University Library.

Below the photographs are well-researched descriptions, addresses, and opening hours for research and tours. Months, days and dates are in easy-to-read boldface print with boxes large enough for brief notations. This calendar is reasonably priced at $12.95, less for bulk orders, plus shipping and handling. It would make an ideal gift for bibliophiles, library staff, and art historians. Renaissance Library greeting cards, prints, posters, and discontinued earlier editions of the calendar are also available. These items are published by ISIM, Torsvagen 7B, SE-192 67 Sollentuna, Sweden. Tel: +46 8 754 15 55, fax: +46 8 754 13 33. E-Mail: and details at

The publisher welcomes comments about the Calendar and nominations of favorite old libraries for next year.

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