Catalogues

Explore the collections of the Biblioteca Estense 

A dynastic library par excellence, the Biblioteca Estense was created at the behest of the Este family―Lords of Ferrara―as early as the late fourteenth century, and it remained closely intertwined with the noble family until the dissolution of the duchy. The collections are made up of numerous noteworthy illuminated books and works of literary, historical and artistic interest that date to the time of Marquis Niccolò III. The collection was further developed during the Renaissance by Leonello, Borso, Ercole and Alfonso, who enriched it with very important manuscripts and precious printed editions. Following the Convention of Faenza in which the Estes ceded Ferrara to the Pontiff, the library was moved from the Castello Estense in Ferrara to Modena, the new capital as of 1598.

Despite the significant losses incurred during the move, by the seventeenth century the collection at the Biblioteca had already begun to regain its former glory thanks to new acquisitions. It was further enriched at the end of the eighteenth century by the arrival of important collections of manuscripts and prints from the suppressed religious orders. Since the end of the seventeenth century, the Dukes have entrusted their collection to librarians: chosen from amongst the greatest minds of their age, they created a true bibliographic system and the first library catalogue. Amongst the Biblioteca’s famous librarians are Giovanni Battista Boccabadati and Benedetto Bacchini in the seventeenth century and Ludovico Antonio Muratori and Girolamo Tiraboschi during the eighteenth century. On the initiative of Duke Francesco III, the Biblioteca was opened to the public in 1764 and in 1772 the new university library was added. 

Purchased after the Unification of Italy by the new Italian government, the Biblioteca Estense moved to its new location at Palazzo dei Musei in 1882, followed by the Biblioteca Universitaria in 1891. The Biblioteca Estense has always been an important cultural reference for the city of Modena. Because of this close relationship, important private libraries were donated to the Biblioteca fostering a tradition of gifting that continues to this day. The library also serves as a Legal Deposit, thereby receiving by law copies of everything printed in the Province of Modena and in this way increasing its collections of a ‘local’ and ‘minor’ nature. Although a de facto unit since transferring to their new location, the Biblioteca Estense and the Biblioteca Universitaria were only officially united in 1995, establishing what we now call the Biblioteca Estense Universitaria.

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