Medieval & Renaissance Manuscripts

Princeton University’s collection of medieval and Renaissance manuscripts is one of the finest in the country, containing over 420 manuscripts in the Robert Garrett, Grenville Kane, Robert Taylor, Cotsen Library, and Princeton collections, and hundreds of other manuscripts, single leaves and cuttings, and original documents in various other collections. The University’s manuscripts range widely — from the Carolingian era to the Italian Renaissance, for instance — with notable strength in late medieval holdings. These documents mostly come from England, France, Italy, Germany, as well as the Low Countries and the Iberian Peninsula; as such, they vary widely in language, with some manuscripts written in Middle English, and others in Flemish, Hebrew, and Icelandic.

Some of the primary collections which comprise Princeton’s medieval and Renaissance manuscript holdings are summarized below.

Robert Garrett Collection

In 1942, Robert Garrett — a decorated, two-time Olympian, as well as a trustee of the University — donated his collection of over 11,000 manuscripts to the University library. Garrett, who graduated from the University in 1897, was highly interested in both history and archaeology, and he spent a significant amount of his life traveling in his search for these documents. Thanks to his generous donation, students can browse through his collection and find prominent Ethiopic texts (including Bibles, homilies, liturgy, theology, and compilations on magic and divination) and Syriac manuscripts (specifically, 23 of them written in the Syriac alphabet, such as Biblical commentaries, prayer books, and other religious texts). The collection also contains material such as Mesoamerican, Arabic, and Samaritan manuscripts, which range in content from religious texts to historical documents, and span a wide variety of ancient languages.

Robert Taylor Collection

The Robert H. Taylor Collection, originally formed in the 1930s and housed in the University library in 1972, contains over 4,000 rare books and 3,300 manuscripts that represent some of the best of English from the 14th to the 20th centuries. The collection also features artwork, illustrated albums, letterbooks, letter correspondence, and photographs. Some of the prominent writers featured in this collection include Max Beerbohm, Alexander Pope, the Brontë sisters, Charles Dickens, Thomas Hardy, Henry James, Alfred Tennyson, William Makepeace Thackeray, Oscar Wilde, and Virginia Woolf.

Grenville Kane Collection

Though already well-renowned for resources such as the earliest editions of texts by Vergil and Horace, the University library has significantly increased and strengthened its holdings in printed works of the 15th century with its acquisition of the Grenville Kane collection. The collection includes some of the first illustrated books of the 1400s, and the Kane illustrated incunabula are some of the finest examples of Italian, French, German, and Swiss work of this time period. The collection also contains four tracts printed in Florence between 1495 and 1497 — religious texts that provide insight into the life of Girolamo Savonarola.

For more on Princeton’s medieval and Renaissance holdings, please visit the library collections’ guide.