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Ruprecht-Karls-Universität Heidelberg

State of research

The use of the Vatican’s collections during the 17th and 18th centuries

Shortly after the deportation of the Bibliotheca Palatina to Rome in 1623 several, initially unsuccessful, attempts were made to win the library back for Heidelberg. For some time, the Vatican withdrew the entire collection from use – especially from use by foreign researchers. Germanists and historians, who were well aware of the research value of the texts held in the Vatican collection, felt this most acutely. Friedrich Adelung was one of the select few to whom the Bibliotheca Palatina was made available in the late 18th century. He wrote about the difficulties he faced in viewing parts of the collection: "One would almost think that the Roman court had deliberately taken it upon itself to make the use of the Vatican Library more difficult; at the very least, apart from the ban on viewing it, there is hardly any obstacle that could be thought of that could not be overcome by using it" (Friedrich Adelung, Nachrichten von altdeutschen Gedichten, welche aus der Heidelbergischen Bibliothek in die Vatikanische gekommen sind. Nebst einem Verzeichnisse derselben und Auszügen, Königsberg 1796, p. 8). Traces of use in these books – such as notes or glossaries – from their time in the Vatican are also rare. In a few cases, proof of lending texts from the collections can be found in the Vatican’s records.

The beginnings of academic research into the Palatini germanici, once returned to Heidelberg

The return of the Codices Palatini germanici, the German-language manuscripts of the former Bibliotheca Palatina, to Heidelberg in 1816 was an event of the highest order of importance, of even national significance. In a newsletter dated 2 August 1816, the Vice-Rector of the University invited Professors to examine the manuscripts, which were to return from Rome the following day. From the list of signatories, it is clear that many accepted this offer in order to catch a first glimpse of the manuscripts.

At last, it was now once again possible to use the texts on-site in Heidelberg. Numerous publications and editions have been subsequently produced, in particular on the approximately 100 codices, which preserve and pass on Middle and Early New High German literature.

Soon after the return of the 847 Codices Palatini germanici, the then Director of the University Library and historian, Friedrich Wilken, published a preliminary short catalogue of the manuscripts. In 1886, on the 500th anniversary of the University, the first expertly researched catalogue of the German-language manuscripts written before 1500 was due to be published. However, due to an illness contracted by the author of the catalogue, Karl Bartsch, the volume was not published until 1887. In 1903, Jakob Wille, who later became Director of the University Library, published the descriptions of the manuscripts from the 16th and 17th centuries.

Academic research into the Vatican collections

Processing the Latin Codices in the Vatican had also begun by the 1880s. However, the catalogue by Enrico Stevenson, published in 1886, remains piecemeal and records only the shelf marks Cod. Pal. lat 1-921. Stevenson’s father wrote descriptions of the Greek manuscripts.

For this purpose, Stevenson was able to draw on the preliminary work of Friedrich Sylburg. The 16th century classicist had already complied a handwritten catalogue of the Greek manuscripts, which has been preserved as part of the Palatini latini (). The Sylburg catalogue was first published in print by the Reformed theologian Ludwig Christian Mieg in his „Monumenta pietatis et literaria virorum in re publica & literaria illustrium selecta” of 1702.

Developments today

Cataloguing work did not successfully resume until the 1960s – the support of the Stiftung Kulturgut Baden-Württemberg (Baden-Württemberg Foundation for Cultural Heritage) and the Deutschen Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG) (German Research Foundation).With the financial support of these organisations, four catalogues of the Latin Palatine manuscripts and five catalogues of the German-language manuscripts have been published since 1981. Ludwig Schuba compiled the catalogues on the medical and quadrivium manuscripts in the Palatini latini. Dorothea Walz created the catalogue of the historical and philosophical texts in the Palatini latini and, finally, Wolfgang Metzger catalogued the humanistic, trivium and Reformation manuscripts. The remaining manuscripts, mostly described by Stevenson are now being catalogued as part of a DFG project, which is funded for six years.

The Palatini germanici have been catalogued according to their shelf marks: Volume 1 contains the numbers 1-181; Volume 2, 182-303; Volume 3 , 304-495; Volume 4, 496-670 and Volume 5, 671-848. The cataloguing of the Codices Palatini germanici concluded the completion of the last volume. Since 2014, the project „Cataloguing 876 Medieval and Early Modern Latin Manuscripts of the Heidelberg Bibliotheca Palatina in the Vatican Library in Rome”, funded by the DFG over a period of six years, has been undertaking in-depth academic cataloguing of the 876 Medieval and Early Modern Latin Codices from the Bibliotheca Palatina.

Full text search in the Codices Palatini germanici manuscript catalogues

The printed materials of the former Bibliotheca Palatina were catalogued in a separate project and can be researched via a Microfiche-edition and four catalogue volumes.

Alongside these complete catalogues of the collections, countless studies of individual manuscripts of the Bibliotheca Palatina have been carried out in recent decades. In addition to essays, selected items have been the subject of monographs, considered in art historical and codicologial studies and referenced in modern text editions, to name a few examples. Facsimile volumes have also been published for some cimelia in the collection.

© Karin Zimmermann, Universitätsbibliothek Heidelberg, 02/2017
Translated by Emily Giles