Illuminated Manuscript Collection (Princeton University Library)

Xenophon, Cyropaedia; Detail, initial C, c. 1460. Image and data from: Index of Christian Art, Princeton University

Princeton University Library's The Department of Rare Books and Special Collections is located in the Harvey S. Firestone Library and the Seeley G. Mudd Manuscript Library. Its holdings comprise approximately 200,000 printed works, 30,000 linear feet of textual materials from cuneiform tablets to contemporary manuscripts, and a wealth of visual materials such as prints, drawings, photographs, maps, coins, etc. Within the department, the Manuscripts Division is responsible for an estimated 8,500 linear feet of materials spanning five thousand years and representing works from all parts of the world, with strengths in Western Europe, the Near East, the United States, and Latin America. This includes a significant collection of Medieval and Renaissance manuscripts, especially English, French, Italian, and Byzantine manuscripts.

Since 2001, with support from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Princeton Index of Christian Art, which is based in the Department of Art and Archaeology at Princeton, has been conducting a project to catalog 400 of the 500 Medieval and Renaissance manuscripts contained throughout the collections of the Princeton University Library. While the collections are particularly renowned for their 14th and 15th holdings, these manuscripts range from the 5th to the 16th centuries, most of which have never been fully cataloged or photographed before. According to Don Skemer, Curator of Manuscripts, “Ours is one of the largest and richest such collections in the United States, and it's considered the best American collection for which there is no published catalog.” As part of the project, illuminated leaves contained in some 200 of the manuscripts were photographed, digitized, and classified by the Index of Christian Art. These images were then added to the Index's online database, which, together with its extensive photographic archive, presents information about more than 200,000 works of Western Christian art from apostolic times to 1500 A.D. They have also been made available in the Artstor Digital Library, with over 3,000 images, whether miniatures, historiated initials, or other examples of manuscript illumination, accompanied by cataloging records provided by the Index of Christian Art.