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Isaac Vossius collection

Identifier: ubl024

Scope and Contents

The collection contains c. 4,000 printed works, including ubl285 maps and atlases , more than 700 manuscripts and some 200 annotated books. The manuscripts can be divided into the following sections: 362 Latin manuscripts in folio, quarto and octavo, almost all medieval, half of which date from before 1100 (VLF, VLQ, VLO); 174 Greek manuscripts in folio, quarto and octavo (VGF, VGQ, VGO); 46 manuscripts of mixed contents (Latin en Greek), mostly of a philological nature and dating from the 16th or the 17th century (VMI); 31 manuscripts in Roman and Germanic languages, in folio and quarto (VGG); 113 medical, pharmaceutical and alchemical manuscripts in folio, quarto en octavo, produced in German countries in the 16th century (VCF, VCQ, VCO).


  • Creation: 5th to 17th century

Language of Materials

Latin ; Greek; German

Conditions Governing Use

Regulations that apply during the use of these materials can be found on the website of Leiden University Library.

Biographical / Historical

Isaac Vossius was a classical philologist and collector of manuscripts, maps, atlases and printed works. Vossius was born in 1618 as the son of the humanist Gerard Johannes Vossius (1577-1649), who was a professor, first in Leiden, and later in Amsterdam. In 1648, Isaac started to work as a scholar for Queen Christina of Sweden. After he had sold the famous library of his father to Christina in 1649 for the price of 20,000 guilders, Vossius was appointed court librarian a year later, with the task of expanding and cataloguing the library (see Vossius 1650). After a stay of eighteen months in the Republic, partly forced, Vossius returned to Sweden in 1653, where he found his own book collection and the court library in great disarray. When Christina abdicated in 1654, a large part of her library was shipped to Rome. A part of the manuscripts and printed books was, however, taken from Christina’s library by Vossius as compensation for late payments and for the loss of his own books. A letter that was discovered recently (published in Blok, Rademaker & De Vet 2003) shows that Christina still owed Vossius a substantial amount of money in 1668. Isaac Vossius died at Windsor in 1689. He bequeathed his library to Gerard Jan and Aafje Vossius, the children of his brother Matthaeus.

More information on Isaac Vossius and his library can be found in Blok (1974), Blok (2000) and Rademaker (1996).


4000 printed books (circa); 729 manuscripts.

Abstract in Dutch

Verzameling drukken en handschriften bijeengebracht door Isaac Vossius (1618-1689), klassiek filoloog en verzamelaar.

Abstract in English

Collection of printed books and manuscripts gathered by Isaac Vossius (1618-1689), classical philologist and collector.

Physical Location

Leiden University Library, Special Collections

Other Finding Aids

The online catalogue contains item descriptions of the codices Vossiani. Shelfmarks begin with VLF, VLQ, VLO (latini), VGF, VGQ, VGO (graeci), VMI (miscellanei), VGG (germano-gallici) and VCF, VCQ, VCO (chymici).

The printed works, excluding the doubles which were sold, are included in the online catalogue. However, they cannot be found directly, as the short titles in this database lack provenance and acquisition details. For a first survey, see the handwritten catalogues in the Curators archives (AC1, inv. 169) and the collection Bibliotheca Publica Latina (BPL 127 AF, BPL 735). All printed works held by Leiden University have been described at the beginning of the 19th century by M. Tydeman in his shelf catalogue, arranged according to subject and format, often including details on the provenance (e.g.: ex bibl. v.i. Is. Vossii); new shelf marks have been added after 1860 (in many cases these are still in use today). This shelf catalogue is currently kept in the archive of Leiden University Library (BA1, inv. C 42; the printed works in dl. 1-13). Some 100 printed books which are annotated by Vossius (both Is. and G.J.) can also be found in the handwritten Index alphabeticus virorum doctorum quorum notas manuscriptas libris typis impressis adscriptas servat Bibliotheca Lugduno-Batavae (s.d.), which is kept in the reference library under shelf mark DOUSA 80 1520. The atlases and maps from the Vossius Library have been described by De Vries (1981).

Custodial History

Previous owners of the material in the Vossius collection include Jean and Pierre Bourdelot, Queen Christina of Sweden, Franciscus Junius, Paul and Alexandre Petau, Emperor Rudolf II and Melchisédech Thevenot. Vossius had bought several hundreds of manuscripts from Alexandre Petau in 1650 for Queen Christina's library, and many of these eventually became part of Vossius' own library, including Petau's catalogue of his manuscripts, which is currently held by Leiden University Library under shelf mark VLQ 76 (cf. De Meyier 1947).

Immediate Source of Acquisition

When negotiations with Oxford University had come to nothing, the heirs accepted an offer from the curators in 1690 to buy the collection for 33,000 guilders on behalf of Leiden University Library. Nevertheless, a conflict arose after the collection had been brought to Leiden from England, and after a first instalment of 21,000 guilders had already been paid. The librarian F. Spanheim and the professors J. Gronovius and J. Triglandius compared the printed books and the manuscripts with the items that were mentioned in the catalogue which had been delivered beforehand by the heirs. The proposed price had been mainly based upon this catalogue. The Leiden curators were of the opinion that the books that were received were less valuable than had initially been suggested, and noticed that, in addition, several valuable items had not been received. The university started a law suit against G.J. Vossius for breach of contract which lasted many years and which was eventually lost by the Leiden party in 1704. The High Court judged that the contract that had been made needed to be followed. Leiden University paid the remainder of the sum (including the costs of the law suit, which by then had amounted to 12,000 guilders), but also received the missing items from the heirs. The purchase of the Vossius library caused financial difficulties for Leiden University, but to its library it brought international fame. Especially the manuscripts proved to be of invaluable worth.

Documentation concerning the purchase of the Vossius library and the subsequent law suit is kept in the Curators archives (AC1, inv. 164-169); the catalogue of the Vossius library which was compiled in Leiden after the purchase is kept in the collection Bibliotheca Publica Latina ( BPL 127 AF). A list with taxation details of the Greek and Latin manuscripts can be found in the archive of Leiden University Library (BA1, inv. F 2). For more information on the acquisition, see the library report written by David van Royen in 1741 (published in Molhuysen 1921), Tydeman (1825), Molhuysen (1905), Berkvens-Stevelinck (2001) and Otterspeer (2002).


No additions are to be expected.

Existence and Location of Copies

In 2015 the Codices Vossiani Latini have been digitized in collaboration with Brill Publishers. Users with a ULCN account can access the digital versions via the online catalogue. Other users can buy short term access. See: Codices Vossiani Latini Online.

Related Materials

The Burman collection contains copies of several hundreds of letters addressed to Isaac Vossius (kept und shelfmark BUR F 11). These and other letters can also be searched in the online catalogue (use search term “Vossius” and Search Scope Letters).

Separated Materials

Manuscripts and letters of Isaac Vossius, his brother Matthaeus (1611-1646) and their father Gerard Johannes Vossius (1577-1649) have been donated to the Library of the Remonstrant Brotherhood in Amsterdam after the death of Isaac’s cousin and heir Gerard Johannes Jr. (1645-1716). This Remonstrant library is currently held by Amsterdam University Library as a permanent loan. In addition, some of the papers from the Vossius family are kept as part of the Verrutius-Emmen family papers in the National Archive in Groningen (on this matter, see Blok, Rademaker & De Vet 2003).


  • Berkvens-Stevelinck, C., Magna commoditas. Geschiedenis van de Leidse universiteitsbibliotheek 1575-2000. Leiden 2001, p. 102-109.
  • Balsem, A.C., "Libri omissi" italiani del Cinquecento provenienti dalla Biblioteca di Isaac Vossius : ora nella Biblioteca della Rijksuniversiteit di Leida. Leiden 1994. (Bibliotheca Vossiana, 1)
  • Blok, F.F., Contributions to the history of Isaac Vossius’s library. Amsterdam 1974.
  • Blok, F.F., Isaac Vossius and the Blaeus, in: Quaerendo 26 (1996), p. 77-84; 87-93.
  • Blok, F.F., Isaac Vossius and his circle. His life until his farewell to Queen Christina of Sweden, 1618-1655. Groningen 2000.
  • Blok, F.F., C.S.M. Rademaker en J. de Vet, Verdwaalde papieren van de familie Vossius uit de zeventiende eeuw. With a summary in English: Lost pages of the Vossius familie from the 17th century, in: Lias 30 (2003), p. 50-107 (brief van Christina van Zweden aan Vossius, gedateerd 20.10.1668 op p. 101-105).
  • Boeren, P.C., Codices Vossiani chymici. Leiden 1975. (Codices manuscripti, 17).
  • Catalogus compendiarius continens codices omnes manuscriptos qui in Bibliotheca Academiae Lugduno-Batavae asservantur. Pars 1. Leiden 1932. (Catalogus / Bibliotheca Academiae Lugduno Batavae, 14), I (codices latini), II (codices graeci), III (codices miscellanei), IV (codices germano-gallici), V (codices chymici).
  • Catalogus exquisitissimorum in omni studiorum genere librorum, Latinorum, graecorum, Hebraicorum [...] qui, dum in Bibliotheca Publica, quae est Lugdun. Batav. bis, terve occurrebant, [...] una cum maximis globis [...] publica auctione distrahentur in officina Petri van der AA, [...] die Martis I. Junii 1706. Lugd. Batav. 1706.
  • DBNL (auteur)
  • Meyier, K.A. de, Paul en Alexandre Petau en de geschiedenis van hun handschriften (voornamelijk op grond van de Petau-handschriften in de Universiteitsbibliotheek te Leiden. Leiden 1947,.
  • Meyier, K.A. de, Codices Vossiani Graeci et Miscellanei. Lugd. Batav. 1955 (Codices manuscripti, 6).
  • Meyier, K.A. de, Codices Vossiani Latini. Pars. 1: Codices in folio (Leiden 1973); Pars 2. Codices in quarto (Leiden 1975); Pars 3. Codices in octavo (Leiden 1977). Pars 4. Indices. Ed. K.A. de Meyier et P.F.J. Obbema (Leiden 1984). – (Codices manuscripti, 13-16)
  • Molhuysen, P.C., Geschiedenis der Universiteits-bibliotheek te Leiden. Leiden 1905, p. 28-33.
  • Molhuysen, P.C., Bronnen tot de geschiedenis der Leidsche Universiteit. Dl. 4. 18 Febr. 1682 - 8 Febr. 1725 (Amsterdam 1920), p. 28; Dl 5. 10 Febr. 1725 - 8 Febr. 1765 ('s-Gravenhage 1921), p. 88*-131 (ed. rapport-Van Royen, 1741).
  • Moquette, H.C.H., in: Nieuw Nederlandsch biographisch woordenboek, dl. 1 (Leiden 1911), k. 1519-1525.
  • Otterspeer, W., Groepsportret met dame. Dl. 2. De vesting van de macht. De Leidse universiteit, 1673-1775 (Amsterdam 2002), p. 104-106, 112.
  • Senguerdius, W. [e.a.], Catalogus librorum tam impressorum tam manuscriptorum Bibliothecae Publicae Universitatis Lugduno-Batavae. Lugd. Batav. 1716.
  • Tydeman, H.W., Authentieke geschiedenis van den aankoop van de bibliotheek van Is. Vossius voor de akademie te Leiden, in: Mnemosye 5 (1825), p. 261-290.
  • Vossius, I., Catalogus codicum manu scriptorum Bibliothecae Regiae Holmiensis c. annum MDCL ductu et auspicio Isaac Vossii conscriptus = Katalog över handskrifterna i Kungl. bibliotheket i Stockholm skriven omkr. 1650. Ed. C. Callmer. Stockholm 1971. – [Photomech. repr.]
  • Vries, D. de., The Netherlands atlases and maps from the library of Isaac Vossius (1618-1689), in: International yearbook of cartography 21 (1981), pp. 177-194.


The material in this collection can be requested via the online catalogue.

Processing Information

The purchase of the Vossius library doubled the collection of Leiden University to c. 9,500 books. The manuscripts were kept together as a separate collection. Doubles were removed from the printed books and these were auctioned in 1706 by Van der Aa (see the Catalogus exquisitissimorum in omnium studiorum genere librorum). After ex libris seals had been attached to all title pages, the books were distributed over the existing collection which was grouped according to size and to subject.

The library catalogue of 1716 describes the manuscripts of Vossius in a separate chapter, entitled Manuscripti Bibliothecae Vossianae pretio emptae. This chapter consists of nearly fifty folio pages in two columns (p. 358-403). The manuscripts were given shelf marks which are still in use today. A concise overview of the codices Vossiani is provided in the Catalogus compendiarius (1932). Most of the manuscripts from the Vossius collection had not been catalogued thoroughly until after the Second World War. The Greek and the miscellaneous (Greek and Latin) manuscripts have been described by De Meyier (1955), the alchemical manuscripts by Boeren (1975) and those in Latin by De Meyier (1973-1984). The maps and atlases from the Vossius library are described in De Vries (1981); see also Blok (1996).

The printed works from the Vossius library are described in a separate series, the first part of which has been published (Balsem 1994). Information on the printed works is kept in the archive of Leiden University Library (BA1, inv. C 10, C 42: 1-13).

The handwritten Index alphabeticus virorum doctorum quorum notas manuscriptas libris typis impressis adscriptas servat Bibliotheca Lugduno-Batavae (s.l.), which can be found in the reference library under shelf mark DOUSA 80 1520, mentions approximately 100 annotated books.

Collection guide of the Isaac Vossius collection (5th to 17th century)
Collectie Isaac Vossius
André Bouwman, 2007
Language of description
Script of description
Code for undetermined script
Language of description note
This finding aid has been written in English.

Revision Statements

  • 25 January 2016: latest update

Repository Details

Part of the Leiden University Libraries Archives & Collections Repository

Witte Singel 27
Leiden 2311 BG Netherlands
+31 71 527 2857