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Only cognoscenti know that the Vatican also possesses an outstanding collection of manuscripts of works of literature and science. The founder of the library, Pope Nicholas V (1447?–?1455), was an important humanist and collector of books. The present collection Litterae underlines the importance of the secular manuscripts for the Vatican Library.

A Papal Confession of Humanism and Universality

Pope Benedict XVI himself expressed the principle of a cosmopolitan attitude in a personal message of greeting: “From its very beginnings it (= the Vatican Library) has maintained the inimitable, truly ‘catholic’, universal openness towards all that mankind has produced over the centuries: all that is noble, right, sincere and amiable (see Phil 4,8).

The Vatican Library is not a theological or predominantly religious library; true to its humanist origins and in accordance with its vocation it is open to that which is human; and so its purpose lies in the service of culture.”

Over the centuries the Popes have turned their attention beyond the spiritual in the narrow sense towards the “truly human”, and have collected books which serve the search for truth: conscious or unconscious, religious or secular.


The twelve sheets assembled represent the most important secular manuscripts in the Vatican Library. The selection was made according to two criteria: the manuscripts which were considered were those which are either of great importance for the handing down of manuscripts by classical authors, or those which are of great significance in the history of book art and illustration.

The manuscripts extend over a period of over 1,000 years. The oldest manuscript represented in this boxed set is the famous Vergilius Vaticanus fragment from the fourth to fifth century, with texts from the Georgics and the Aeneid.

In addition to another Virgil manuscript (sixth century), other highlights of the collection include a facsimile sheet from the Falconry Book of Frederick II (thirteenth century); a scene from Dante’s Divine Comedy illustrated by the great Sandro Botticelli (fifteenth century); and the astrological table from a Byzantine Ptolemy manuscript (eighth to ninth century).

The astrological table was also used as the model for the real gold gilt brass plate decorating the box containing the sheets.

We have 1 facsimile edition of the manuscript "Treasures from the Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana - Litterae": Schätze der Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana - Litterae facsimile edition, published by Faksimile Verlag, 2012

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Schätze der Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana - Litterae

Lucerne or Munich: Faksimile Verlag, 2012

  • Commentary (German) by Grafinger, Christine M.
  • Limited Edition: 1995 copies
  • Collection: a selection of documents associated by a common thread and collected by the publisher in a single edition.

The facsimile boxed set contains twelve sheets printed on both sides and mounted in passepartouts. They were meticulously produced after the originals in the Vatican Library with the attention to detail. The sheets were finished with real gold where this could be historically justified. The box itself measures 380 × 520 × 87 mm and is covered with green cowhide. The box is decorated with a relief reproduction in gilt brass of the circular astrological table (Byzantine Ptolemy manuscript, 8th - 9th century). It was produced exclusively for the Vatican boxed set. A companion commentary volume explains knowledgeably and clearly the history of the Vatican Library and the selected sheets. It was edited by Dr. Christine Maria Grafinger, curator of manuscripts in the Vatican Library.

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