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Digital Library: New additions to Italian Literature Studies sections: Studies - General (ENF) - Anniversary volumes (ENI) - Before Dante (ENB) - 14th century (ENC) - 15th - 17th century (ENM)

The Warburg Institute Library: description

The Warburg Institute Library holds a collection of international importance in the humanities. Its 350,000 volumes make it the largest collection in the world focused on renaissance studies and the history of the classical tradition. It includes a large number of nineteenth- and early twentieth-century continental books and periodicals (especially German and Italian), unavailable elsewhere in the UK, as well as several thousand pre-1800 items, many of which are extremely rare and valuable.

Its open access provision of a wide range of primary and secondary texts (65% of them in languages other than English) close to the world’s greatest collection of fifteenth and sixteenth century printed books (in the British Library) makes it an ideal working base for research on the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. Its usefulness is further enhanced by the superb libraries of the Institute of Classical Studies, the School of Oriental and African Studies, Senate House and the Wellcome Institute for the History of Medicine, whose librarians collaborate with us to avoid duplication.

The unique classification system of the library was established by Aby Warburg and Fritz Saxl, and has been refined, extended and reorganised in particular sections by three generations of scholar librarians. It structures culture and expression under four large categories, image, word, orientation and action (corresponding to the four floors of stacks above the reading room). See this page for detailed maps.

Its detailed organisation makes inspired connections between different fields of endeavour and study. Readers’ access to the open shelves of the library leads them to books which they would not otherwise find, while the unique arrangement of the sections enables them also to make more intuitive connections. Users also appreciate the helpfulness of the librarians and their skill in selecting and making available unusual materials. 30% of our book acquisitions come as gifts, mostly from grateful readers, who also give us around 400 offprints each year. Our tradition of cataloguing offprints as separate items and placing them on the shelves gives readers easy access to much of the important periodical literature on subjects within our classification system

The 350,000 or so volumes are classified in four sections: history of art (first floor, with classical art and archaeology in the basement),  literature, books, libraries and education (second floor and basement);  religion, history of science and philosophy (third and fourth floors); social and political history (fourth floor); . There are c. 2,500 runs of periodicals, about half of them current (mobile stacks in the basement). Readers have free access to the Library Holdings.

The Samuel H. Kress Foundation has presented to the Library a complete microfiche edition of the 4,800 pre-1800 volumes in the Cicognara collection, Vatican Library.

The libraries of the Royal Numismatic Society and the British Numismatic Society are housed, and accessible, in the Institute.

The working papers of Aby Warburg, Fritz Saxl, Henri Frankfort, Robert Eisler, Evelyn Jamison, D. P. Walker, Roberto Weiss and Frances A. Yates are available, on application, to suitably qualified persons (see also a description of the Archive.

Principal Areas of Strength

Western post-classical art history, especially early Christian, Byzantine, Italian, Netherlandish and German art (covering architecture, sculpture and painting); iconography (religious and secular); survival of classical art (antiquities, inscriptions, numismatics, gems) and of themes from classical art (e.g., Hercules, Orpheus); art historical sources (guidebooks, inventories, artists’ letters); development of art history as a discipline; history of art collecting; applied arts.

Rhetoric and poetics, Italian literature (from Dante to the seventeenth century); Renaissance humanism; the later influence of classical authors and forms (complementary to the holdings of the Institute of Classical Studies); the survival of classical themes (especially Alexander legend and Roman legend); mythological handbooks; emblem books; history of European universities and academies; cultural exchange (translation, travel, pilgrimage).

The survival of ancient philosophy and its influence on medieval, Renaissance and early modern thought, with sections of particular importance on Arabic philosophy of the Middle Ages, Spanish medieval philosophy (Ramon Lull) and Renaissance philosophy (especially Christian Neoplatonism, Giordano Bruno, Nicholas of Cusa).

The history of religion, especially comparative studies (e.g. rituals, onomastics); the survival and later influence of ancient religious beliefs and cults (Manichaeism and Hermeticism), and their connections to Christianity and Judaism; the interrelations between Christianity, Judaism and Islam; Christian religion (patristics, hagiography, monasticism, preaching, Jesuits); Jewish mysticism, history and art; Western attitudes towards, and perception of, the Islamic world

The history of magic and science, especially astrology and astrological iconography; alchemy; prophecy and divinatory practices (e.g., dreams, comets, monsters, fortune-telling books, chess).

Historiography (from antiquity to the present) and political history, especially of Italy and Germany (complementary to the holdings of the Institute of Historical Research).

Cultural history, especially the survival of ancient cultural practices and their influence on later history, with sections of particular importance on: history of utopian thought and of political advice books; medieval kingship; Renaissance political thought; history of festivals and of banqueting (including historic cookbooks); Roman law in the Middle Ages and Renaissance. 

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