Utrecht in the world

The collection of manuscripts, old printed books and maps of the University Library of Utrecht is in many ways a reflection of the history and culture of the city of Utrecht. From the medieval period large collections of the monastic and chapter libraries have been preserved, including a number of masterpieces. Other masterpieces were produced by the Utrecht masters of manuscript illumination, full of beautiful miniatures and shining gold.

This cultural richness stimulated the arrival of the first printers of books in the Low Countries in Utrecht at the end of the 15th century. The city also attracted scientists of international reputation, from Arnold Buchelius around 1600 until university professors of the 20th century. Their archives and book collections are being kept and made available at Special Collections.

Profile of Utrecht, Diarium (ca. 1593-1600), Hs. 798
Zwolle Bible, Ms. 31 vol. 2, 153r

Confiscated cloister and chapter libraries form the core of the collections of early manuscripts and printed works in the Special Collections. These are unique collections in the Netherlands and a number of them include world-famous documents.

Utrecht masterpieces on parchment

In the late Middle Ages, Utrecht was considered the centre of the northern Netherlands in terms of manuscript illumination. Countless manuscripts were illuminated by Utrecht's masters in a distinctive style that that was easy to identify. The magnificently illustrated books of hours, in particular, were extremely popular items among the elite in the northern Low Countries and beyond.

Historia scholastica (1473), E fol 110 rar, pt 1, colofon

Johannes Gutenberg is credited with inventing and perfecting the art of printing in about 1450, which, in just a few decades, ushered in a period in the manufacture and distribution of books that was nothing short of revolutionary. New ideas spread quickly as books containing scientific discoveries, information and viewpoints were printed in large editions. Initially, there were only two cities outside of Germany and Italy with printing presses: Paris and Utrecht.

Utrecht in Civitates orbis terrarum (1572), MAG : T fol 212 Lk (Rariora)

Utrecht University Library has always been closely linked with the city of Utrecht. Since 1584, the city library (and since 1636, the university library) has acquired the collections of the Utrecht cloister and chapter libraries. The core of these collections are theological and liturgical texts. The theme City history also includes the history of Utrecht University.