Medieval miniatures from Byvanck to the RKD

Illuminated manuscripts – hand-written and decorated books from the Middle Ages – were frequently produced as precious objects enhanced with painted and drawn images. The Dutch cultural heritage of illuminated manuscripts is described in the Byvanck database, which has been built up by researchers of Stichting Alexander Willem Byvanck Genootschap. The RKD will make this treasury of material available online as well as continue to enrich the data. In doing so, the foundation is being laid of a brand new area of interest at the RKD: medieval manuscript illumination in the Netherlands.

Byvanck database

The Byvanck database gives access to more than 4000 illuminated manuscripts. It contains descriptions of almost all (c. 3000) illuminated manuscripts in Dutch collections. Many of these were originally made within the borders of what is now the Netherlands, but Dutch collections also include richly illuminated manuscripts from the Southern Netherlands, France, Italy as well as from other countries. In addition, the Byvanck database covers, when possible, manuscripts in foreign collections, which are known to have been produced in the Northern Netherlands. As a result, the Netherlands is the only country in the world to have a practically complete overview of its cultural heritage of medieval illuminated manuscripts.

Manuscript illumination in RKD Explore

The database describes not only the manuscripts, but also the images which they incorporate: from full-page miniatures to smaller marginal illustrations. The miniatures in illuminated manuscripts have survived in much greater numbers than medieval panel paintings. By integrating the Byvanck database into RKD Explore, the images are brought into the broader context of Netherlandish art history. Moreover, given that illuminated manuscripts can be relatively securely localised and dated, this means that we are creating a research tool which is both up-to-date and directed towards future multidisciplinary research into relations between manuscript illumination and other kinds of artistic production.

Medieval Dutch Manuscript Illumination

As part of this RKD project we will develop and launch an art historical webportal, Medieval Dutch Manuscript Illumination (MDMI), to contain all scholarly information and knowledge concerning manuscript illumination in the Northern Netherlands. This will eventually mean that everyone – whether research specialist or someone with a general interest – will be able to retrieve information at an appropriate level. We will be collaborating with the KB – National Library of the Netherlands, eCodicesNL and Bibliotheek Rotterdam to establish the best way to create sustainable links between the MDMI portal and other initiatives to give online access to medieval manuscripts. The project includes selecting 20 illuminated manuscripts from the Rotterdam collection, which will be fully digitised and presented to scholars and the general public.

The project Medieval Miniatures from Byvanck to the RKD (2022-2025) has been funded by contributions from Stichting Pica, Prins Bernhard Cultuurfonds (specifically the Atelierpraktijken fund), Stichting Art, Books & Collections, Hendrik Muller Fonds, Stichting Zabawas as well as a private donor. Stichting Dioraphte funded the pilot project Medieval Miniatures in the 21st century, which ran from February to June 2021 on behalf of Stichting Alexander Willem Byvanck Genootschap.

Project partners: Stichting Alexander Willem Byvanck Genootschap, eCodicesNL, Bibliotheek Rotterdam