Treasures from Eastern Europe: Bibliotheca Universalis

02 June 2020

In the second installation of the series of short blogs, where we will delve into the treasures of Eastern Europe, we take a closer look at the story behind the Bibliotheca Universalis created by Swiss bibliographer, Konrad Gesner. A copy of this exhaustive work currently resides in the University of Warsaw Library.

Bibliotheca Universalis

Bibliotheca Universalis (published in 1545 in Zurich) is the first modern universal bibliography since the invention of print. It was created by Konrad Gesner, the Swiss bibliographer. The bibliography contains about 3000 lemmas written in Latin, Greek and Hebrew. Many of the authors and works discussed here were later included in the indexes of forbidden books.

Thanks to the hard work of Gesner, Bibliotheca is a unique testimony of its time. In order to make the bibliography useful for potential readers, the author studied the inventory books of private and public libraries, and he gathered information from important scholars at the time. Moreover, he was also interested in the publishing market. He contacted printing houses, publishing outposts, and visited book sales points. For this reason, Bibliotheca shows the state of the publishing market and library resources at the time.

Gesner tried to describe specific bibliographic items as precisely as possible. He placed the most important biographical data, exact dates and publishing addresses of the works, information about their content, evaluations and even quotations. His work was to serve two purposes. First, it was to preserve the memory of writers, lost, rare or destroyed works. Also, Bibliotheca was supposed to play a popularizing role. The book was supposed to encourage scholars and patrons to support the activity of libraries and create new ones.

A Source of Knowledge

The copy of University of Warsaw Library is unique because of the clear traces of monastic censorship. Unsuccessfully, controversial content has been deleted, blurred or cut out from it, while the title pages have been marked with the slogan Purgata et Correcta („cleaned and corrected”).

Therefore, such a copy is a valuable contribution to religious research. It is a source of knowledge about the early-modern publishing market, but it also shows the role of religious institutions in shaping early modern theology.

Sylwia Borowska-Kazimiruk, University of Warsaw.

If you want to take a look at the treasure Bibliotheca Universalis is, you can find a digital version of the copy from the University of Warsaw Library here.

University of Warsaw Logo Bibliotheca Universalis