Origins and early days of ex-libris


by Benoît Junod



Man’s history can be read in terms of communication. First, through language and primitive imagery. Through the wheel, which allowed humans greater mobility. But above all, through the written word, which enabled man to pass on information beyond his own life-span. Engraved on stone, pressed on clay or wax tablets, written on papyrus, vellum, parchment and later on paper, texts evolved from scrolls to books:  they have always been considered privileged vehicles of knowledge, and prized possessions.

From earliest times, books have always been cherished and jealously guarded by their owners. In the Middle Ages, manuscripts were chained to their tables to prevent theft. It is thus easily understandable that owners of books wished to mark their possession in some way. Such marks, generally termed ex-libris, from the Latin phrase meaning from the books of, ‘bookplates’ in English or ‘Bucheignerzeichen’ (book owners’ marks) in German, have existed for thousands of years.



The bookplates of Amenophis III


The earliest recorded ex-libris to date appear to be small enamelled ceramic plaques, one of which is in the British Museum[1], a fragment of a similar plaque is at Yale University[2] Gallery, and a different plaque can be found at the Louvre[3]. They all date from the reign of Amenophis III (1391 – 1353 BC), one of the great pharaohs of the 18th dynasty, whose glory was resplendent during close to forty years at the peak period of the New Empire.


Substantial analysis of the British Museum plaque was first carried out by both British and German archaeologists in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries, but the definitive study is by H. R. Hall, published in the Journal of Egyptian Archaeology eighty years ago[4]. The text in the upper part of the plaque, with the two royal cartouches, reads "The Good God, Nimba-at-Re, given life, beloved of Ptah, king of the two lands, and the king's wife Teie, living". There was substantial discussion as to the text at the bottom of the tablet (which is absent in the Louvre plaque) and Hall gives good argumentation that is reads "Book of the Sycomore and the Olive". At the top of the plaque, within the thickness of the pottery, there is a hole for passing a wire; it would seem that it was fixed with either to a papyrus directly, or perhaps to a box containing a papyrus or a cuneiform tablet. The latter seems a distinct possibility, as there are many heroic legends about trees in Assyrian literature.


The Yale fragment seems to be the lower part of a similar plaque to the British Museum's, but with the inscription reading "Book of the Pomegranate tree".


Although the Louvre plaque does not bear the name of a book, its function can be assumed to be similar to the other two items. Its text is slightly different from the BM plaque and reads " The Good God, Nimba-at-Re, given life, beloved of Amon, master of the sky, regent of Thebes." The Berlin museum seems to have similar plaques or fragments[5] which are inset into what appear to be lids of alabaster boxes (or alabaster lids of wooden boxes) which contained papyri or cuneiform tablets. The cartouches of some of them have been damaged or scratched out; this was probably in the time of Amenophis III's successor, Akhenaten, who was monotheist and objected to mentions of the name Amon or Ptah.


Although initial research has been carried out at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, no similar plaque or fragment has yet been identified[6]. The scarcity of these bookplates might also be due to the destruction carried out in Akhenaten's time.




The Library at Niniveh


Ashurbanipal (reigned 669 - 627 BCE) is famous as one of the few kings in antiquity who could himself read and write. Assyrian power reached its apogee under his rule, not only visible in its military power, but also its culture and art. Ashurbanipal created the first systematically collected library at Nineveh, where he gathered all cuneiform literature available by that time. A library, as distinct from an archive: earlier repositories of documents had accumulated passively, in the course of administrative routine. Tablets from the library of Nineveh preserve the most complete sources for both the Sumerian and Acadian versions of the Epic of Gilgamesh and include a Sumerian-Acadian dictionary. There are arcane astronomical/astrological texts and 'omen' texts that taught the scribes how to recognize the significance of portents.

Over 20,000 tablets from the Niniveh Library are to be found in the British Museum. Their examination, in the 19th Century already[7], showed that nearly every tablet of importance bears the following inscription:

'The Palace of Ashur-bani-pal, king of hosts, king of Assyria, who puts his trust in the gods Ashur and Bêlit, on whom Nabû and Tashmêtu have bestowed ears which hear and eyes which see. I have inscribed upon tablets the noble products of the work of the scribe, which none of the kings who have gone before me have learned, together with the wisdom of Nabû in so far as it exists (in writing). I have arranged them in my palace, so that I, even I, the ruler who knows the light of Ashur, the king of gods, may read them. Whosoever shall carry off this tablet, or shall inscribe his name upon it side by side with my own, may Ashur and Bêlit overthrow him in wrath and anger, and may they destroy his name and posterity in the land.'

It seems that the first ex-librist who noted that this formula is a typical mark of possession of a book was K. E. Count Leiningen - Westerburg[8]. It was written up two years later in the Ex-libris Journal by C. Davies Sherborn[9], who comments on the inscription:

“This exceedingly interesting formula, this ‘mark of possession’ of the time, inscribed with a three-sided blunt instrument on the wet-clay tablet, in its dignified language, and its frank avowal of the wealth of learning which makes a man appear to himself more ignorant, is undoubtedly the earliest known record of an "ex-libris". Of course, Karl Erich zu Leiningen Westerburg – an eminent scholar and researcher –gently corrected  Davies Sherborn indicating that the Amenophis III ceramic plaque is far earlier that the Niniveh tablets[10].


From Ancient Greece to the times of the Visigoths


Although bookplate enthusiasts during the early part of the 20th century did some research into the earliest bookplates, the complete absence of any attempt to identify the existence of ex-libris during Greek and Roman times is quite surprising. It seems hard to believe that extraordinary libraries such as those of Ephesus or Alexandria did not have any marks of ownership on their volumes.


Obviously, such research needs to be done before a real, encompassing exhibition or publication on the origins and early days of ex-libris can be prepared. Until then, we must pass over thirteen hundred years of mystery...




From the Dark Ages to the Renaissance


In the European context, one of the most interesting researches into early ex-libris is the one carried out by J. Dominguez Bordona in Spain, published in 1933[11]. Spain, as a cultural interface to the Moslem world, was certainly fertile ground for the circulation of ideas – and books, earlier than in most other parts of Europe. The church played a dominant role in the transmission of knowledge through its network of monasteries and scribes. Books were painstakingly recopied and decorated for the very powerful or kept within ecclesiastical contexts.


Dominguez Bordona notes, in general terms, that in Mozarab manuscripts it is frequent to find cursory indications of the person or religious community for which they were made or to which a volume belonged. They take the form of a name or location, sometimes with a date or a provenance. On occasion, the name of the scribe can be found and the indication of reigning princes, Christian and Moslem. In other cases, there are long dedicatory texts which contain this information, in prose or in bad verse.


The first occurrence in Spain, however, of a name of an owner inserted into the decoration of a text is FROYLANI PRINCIPIS LIBER incorporated into three initials of a  'Santoral' (Book of Saints) of the Church of Oviedo, which belonged to Fruela I, King of Asturias (reigned 756-768). Research should be done in other European countries to see if there are comparably early ex-libris.


Bordona's great 'discovery', however, was far more extensive than this. He found what one can consider the earliest examples of a painted image indicating the name of the owner of the book, independent from the context of the book itself. In fact, most ex-libris within manuscripts, as we shall see later, are indications of ownership painted into the frontispiece or illustrations within the volume, or manuscript notations - and this is particularly the case of manuscripts which have been made to order.


Practically all the ex-libris listed and analysed by Bordona, which seem to have existed only in Spain and range in dates from the 9th to the 11th Centuries, take the form of labyrinths. A majority of them show rows and columns of individual letters, with a key intersection from which the name of the owner can be read in various directions. The earliest examples are two labyrinth ex-libris in a volume of Etymologies in the Escorial Library which belonged to King Alfonso III of Asturias (848-912), in which the phrase 'ADELFONSI PRINCIPIS LIBRUM' can be read[12].


From the same period appears what might well be the first dated bookplate: A Vitae Patrum manuscript now in the National Library in Madrid contains a 'subscriptio' (signature text) by the scribe, " Explicit liber in era DCCCCXI regnante domno Adefonsum princeps, Armentarius indignus et graue onus peccatorum depressus scripsit. Hora pro me, sic inveniad requiem anime tue. Amen."[13] There has been much discussion as to the owner of the book whose name appears clearly in the labyrinth bookplate: TRASMUNDI AB(BA)TI. Consensus has it that he was a monk from Samos. The decoration of the labyrinth is worth noting as the exterior border is fairly typically Mozarab, but the inner border has a long-standing traditional visigothic decoration, infrequent in Spanish manuscripts.


It is worth noting the labyrinth ex-libris from 945 in a book on the Precepts of St Gregory in the National Library, which reads as 'FLORENTIUM INDIGNUM MEMORARE' (remember the unworthy Florent). He was a celebrated calligrapher whose works are well known and much studied. The owner's name, however, remains mysterious.


At the Library of the Escorial, there is a compendium of texts (Letters of Ascaricio & Tuserido; Etymologies of San Isidro, etc.[14]) with two splendid labyrinth ex-libris showing it to have belonged to Sancho II[15] and his mother Sancha, sister of Bermudo III, King of León. It was made in 1047. Also, at the National Library in Madrid, the labyrinth ex-libris in the Beatus[16] of Ferdinand I is of particular interest as it dates from the same year, and the scribe was different. Two inscriptions can be read simultaneously from the grid, starting with the central F and S in lines 12 and 29. One is FREDENANDUS REX DEI GRA(TI)A ME(MO)R(I)A L(IBRUM) , and the other SANCIA REGINA MRIA LIBRI.


Similar Spanish labyrinth ex-libris can be found in volumes preserved at the Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris, The British Museum, The Morgan Collection, New York, and several cathedral libraries in Spain. Further research will be needed to see if some are of later date than the mid-eleventh Century.



From calligraphy to printed text: the transition period



As noted earlier, it can be said that most marks of ownership on manuscripts of the Middle Ages and Renaissance were heraldic bearings incorporated into frontispieces or illuminated initials, or scenes showing the patron and sometimes the scribe. Again further research into the period, with its amazing capital of manuscripts, must be done to be able to describe and illustrate the variants on these themes.


And then came Gutenberg! Whether it was he or another who finally built the first press with moveable characters is of little importance, but it was an earth-shaking event. However, despite the rapid dissemination of the new printing technology, it would be a mistake to think that printed texts displaced manuscripts – they did not do so systematically, at least, for over a hundred years. Superb manuscripts continued to be produced until the late 16th Century, and then became something passé.


For the purposes of this exhibition, three manuscripts were kindly lent by the Bibliothèque Publique et Universitaire of Geneva, which has a particularly rich collection due to the acquisition, in the 18th Century, of a substantial part of the manuscript collection of Alexandre Petau[17]. They date from c. 1480, 1500 and 1525 respectively. Three other manuscripts and two superb heraldic bindings were brought up from the reserves of the Bodmer Foundation; they date respectively from c. 1450, 1460, 1470, 1545 and 1566. Thus in one glance, visitors have the privilege to see the variety of ways in which a manuscript (and two printed books) were individualised and decorated for their patrons. We will therefore analyse them in chronological order, remaining aware that date attributions can sometimes be erroneous.


Romuleon, by Beneventus Imolensis (1338-1390). CB 143. Bodmeriana, Mss latins, S. 349-353. A compendium of texts on Roman history, this Romuleon was probably written and decorated around 1445-1450, as it was made for the youngest son of Charles VII of France (+1461), Charles de Valois, Duc de Berry (1446-1472), probably at his father's order. The frontispiece shows the author of the book, an elderly man, kneeling and giving the volume to the King who ordered it. The coat-of-arms of France[18] is within the P initial and is to be found in several other miniatures within the volume. The border is particularly beautiful and full of surprises: one can see, bottom left, a horse tied to a flower!


Epistle of Othea, by Christine de Pisan (1364-1431)[19]. Cod. Bodmer 49. A one-hundred chapter allegorical-spiritual work which marked the times, this copy of the Epistle of Othea is widely considered a masterpiece. It was made for Antoine, Grand Bastard of Burgundy (1421-1504) as is shown by his arms on the frontispiece (fol. 7) and his motto (Nul ne s'i frote, Ob de Bourgogne) on fol. 150. The painted frontispiece shows Othea, goddess of wisdom, coming out of a cloud and offering her book to Hector surrounded by four people: Philippe le Bon, Charles le Téméraire and the two bastards, Antoine and David de Bourgogne. 


Life of Aesop, by Maximos Planudes C. 1255 – c. 1305). Cod. Bodmer 184. Planudes had a key role in the survival of ancient Greek and Latin texts, and was employed by Michael VIII Paleologue. The manuscript was written probably (in Italy?) around 1470 and was obviously produced for a member of the Medici family, as the coat-of-arms witnesses. The medallion portraits at the top and on the right side are probably members of the Medici family. However, the portrait in the initial is most probably a representation of Planudes himself, holding his work.


Chronicle, by Eusebius, Bishop of Cesarea (Latin translation by Saint Hieronymus). Geneva Public and University Library, Ms. lat. 49. This text is a fundamental source on early church history. Written around 1480 in a Venetian workshop, this manuscript has an outstanding frontispiece in venetian-padovan style bearing at the bottom the arms of the Maffei family[20]. It was probably made for Celso Maffei, Canon regular of St. John-of-Lateran, born in Verona c. 1425 and died there in 1508. A well-known bibliophile, he left his books to San Leonardo in Verona and Santa Maria della Carità in Venice.


Cyropaedia of Xenophon (French translation by Vasco de Lucena). Geneva Public and University Library, Ms. fr. 75. Dedicated to Charles le Téméraire, de Lucena made this translation around 1470 and this Flemish manuscript was decorated in the last years of the 15th Century by the 'Master of Flemish Manuscripts' by whom other works are known. The lower part of the frontispiece shows the arms of Nassau-Vianden with a Golden Fleece, which indicates the owner to have been Engilbert, Count of Nassau-Dillenburg and Vianden, Baron of Breda, Governor of Brabant and later of the Netherlands. The image shows the translator presenting his book – not to Charles le Téméraire, even if the translation was dedicated to him[21] - but probably to Emperor Maximilian of Habsburg, Grand Master of the Golden Fleece from 1477 to 1500. The second feather-hatted person would then be Philippe le Beau (1478-1506) who was Grand Master of the Golden Fleece from 1500 to 1506 and King of the Netherlands from 1482 until his death. This implies that the book was given to the son-in-law of Charles le Téméraire in the presence of his grandson[22].


Book of Hours of the Virgin (Roman usage), written by Fancesco Boccardi, Florence, c. 1525. Geneva Public and University Library, Ms. lat.151. The double frontispiece opening the volume  shows bottom left the coat-of-arms of the Medicis[23] and bottom right the arms of the Papacy[24]. Two Medicis were popes in the early XVIth Century: John, son of Lorenzo the Magnificent, who occupied the seat of St. Peter from 1513 to 1521, under the name of Leo X. The other is Jules, natural son of Julian but legitimated by Leo X, who was Archbishop of Florence and Pope from 1523 to 1534 under the name of Clement VII. It is most probably the latter for whom this manuscript was made, as is shown by its style and liturgical content. Clement VII lived through the difficult period of the Reformation and the sack of Rome by the Imperials. I am sure that the Geneva Library would prefer to own the book of hours of the antipope Clement VII, Robert of Geneva (1342-1394)... but the fate of books is another subject!



What can we deduce from the marks of ownership contained in these volumes? Perhaps the first indication is that all the manuscripts were commissioned, and none seem to have been made 'for a potential client' – although sometimes discrepancies in apparent dates of the scribe's work and the illumination can leave margin for doubt.  In all the cases shown here, the illuminator included a generic symbol (coat-of-arms) which allows an approximate identification of the owner to be made – except when the arms are quartered and an order is added, then one can be more precise. But this is not always the case, much as there are books with ex-libris and books without. Beyond the arms, one has the pictorial content as an indication of whom the commissioner might have been: the gesture of offering the book is often present, and we have examples her of the author's remitting the volume, the translator doing the same, or a mythical figure from the story of the book itself. Sometimes the commissioner is evident, sometimes not; thus the identification of the owner has to be made through the analysis of a whole set of clues which can be quite complex. The same, of course, can be said for bookplates – although the process is usually more straightforward.




Early days of printed ex-libris



What the mobile press achieved quite fast, was to increase dramatically the number of books in circulation. Moreover, such books differed from manuscripts in not normally being the result of a commission, but for purchase by anyone who had ready money. Gone was the sense of an illustrated frontispiece for a rich patron – with the exception of certain printed works commissioned by institutions. The need to be able to personalise ownership, at a time when nearly all manuscripts were being decorated for a specific owner, became acute. Thus the first printed ex-libris appeared, though exactly at what date and in which order is a moot point. Generally, the Igler, the von Zell and the Brandenburg are considered to be about contemporary and to date from around the 1480s.


Both the first and second mentioned above are elusive[25], and no original was found for exhibition at this date. The third[26], however, is present and it is what is termed an ex dono, i. e. an ex-libris to mark the books which were gifted by someone.


Hildebrand Brandenburg of Biberach was a monk in the monastery of Buxheim, near Memmingen in Germany. A man of substance, he donated various books to its library. To mark his gifts, he had his arms engraved on wood and printed on large sheets, bound in and trimmed with the volumes. He coloured them by hand and next to each wrote an inscription indicating what the book was. This particular ex-libris was for a History against the Pagans (c.415-417) by Paul Orosius, disciple of St. Augustine: in fine, the inscription reads, rather touchingly, ‘Orate pro eo et pro quibus dependaverunt[27]. The Buxheim library was dispersed in 1883 and various prints of this ex-libris found their way into private and public collections. This one was formerly in the von Fels collection.


The Brandenburg is of special interest as it is a prototype bookplate of what can be called the 'Transition period', from the 1460s to the 1560s. In parallel to it, one must give reference to the earliest 'universal' bookplate[28], which dates from the late 1490s, and which was included in volumes printed by a Nuremberg publisher in 1498[29], as well as to the first bookplate which bears a date, the celebrated ex-libris of Telamonius Limberger, Bishop suffragent of Basel (c. 1455-c. 1534,  which bears the date 1498 in the block.


Manuscript inscriptions and heraldic or other sketches in printed books remained common. In the exhibition, we have included two examples: one is a geometric mark bearing the name Hieremias Eberlin, not(ariu)s, probably fom Alsace[30]. The other is a page with inscriptions and heraldic sketches of great interest[31]. The inscription at the top, in Latin, reads translated: “Engelberthus Beheim, born in Gliperdt is the owner of this book, year 1510”. and below: “ So I have six books which are the following: the Institutiones, all the works of Vergil, also called Brassicarium; a dictionary of both Laws; Cicero’s ‘De Officiis’. Further research should be made on the inscriptions relating to the heraldic shields. Beheim was obviously a lawyer, owning Justinian’s ‘Digest’ and a Common and Canon law dictionary. Six books, at the time, was quite a library…


As will be noted though the rest of the exhibition, printed ex-libris first appeared in Germany with the Renaissance which reached Northern Europe nearly 200 years after it shattered mediaeval aesthetic canons in Italy. It flourished in Germany, Switzerland and Austria from about 1500 onwards, and corresponds to the period when a remarkable group of artists called the 'Kleinmeistern' – a reference to the small format of their works - raised the ex-libris from a simple printed identification of ownership to that of a work of art. Even if many ex-libris by Albrecht Dürer (1471-1538), Lukas Cranach the Elder (1472-1553), his son Lukas Cranach the Younger (1515-1586), Jost Ammann (1539-1591), and their schools, as well as by other ‘Little Masters’, mainly from Nuremberg, have been abundantly recorded and illustrated since the 1890s, their aesthetic qualities have had such an influence on the development of the printed image that they are presented in some detail in this exhibition. What distinguishes these ex-libris from some of the other 16th century plates shown here? Usually, they are finer and more ornate than other ex-libris, particularly during the middle to late German Renaissance. But beyond mere ornamentation, they achieve a harmony of composition, a balance in the decorative occupation of a small printed area, which has rarely been surpassed. There is no definite list of the ‘Kleinmeistern’, although most art historians agree on an approximate list of names, nor is there a definite time-frame before which or beyond which an artist does not qualify. Their influence spread in the course of a few decades all over the German cultural 'Raum', and with it the fashion for ex-libris. It is however only towards the end of the transition period that they start appearing in neighbouring countries and beyond. Stylistically, they can be said to occur even until around 1620, the latter date being usually accepted as the end of the late Renaissance and the flourishing of baroque in Northern Europe.


Dürer's ex-libris for Willibald Pirkheimer[32] is certainly the epitome of the early 16th century bookplates, and deserves to be more closely looked at here. Pirkheimer (Eichstadt, 1470- 1530) was counsellor to the Emperor Charles V, author and bibliophile and a friend of Dürer's. It was made before 1503 and occurs in two variants, this and another without. The text ‘sibi et amicis’ means ‘belonging to him and his friends’, a reminder of the pleasure of sharing one’s treasures with friends, and also of the rarity and value of books at that time. Leiningen-Westerburg[33] considers the Pirkheimer ex-libris ‘perhaps the most interesting of all German bookplates’. The print shown here was formerly in the Franze collection, Buenos Aires.


In preparing the exhibition, a conscious effort to find examples of hand-coloured early plates was made. This was not only a question of aesthetics, but because hand-colouring was a conscious effort by the owner of a book, or his librarian, to enhance the mark of ownership in the same way as the illuminators did with manuscripts. Again, to take a striking example in this field, one might refer to Jost Ammann's plate for Melchior Schedel[34]. It is an exceptionally large and striking ex-libris, by one of the great engravers of the 16th Century, originally of Swiss origin, but active in Germany. Amman made well over a thousand woodcuts, of which some 18 ex-libris. It was long thought that this very rare work was not a bookplate, but just a heraldic engraving. The manuscript library reference on this print, within the cartouche of the owner’s name, clearly proves that it is an ex-libris. Originally, the plate bore the first name Melchior, but a later member of the family painted the first name over and substituted his own, Sebastian. Earlier in the Neumann collection and then in the Hintze collection, this print was exhibited in the DEG Centenary exhibition in 1991.




Two rare supralibros


Perhaps it is fitting, after a description of a wide range of ex-libris, to close this analysis of early marks of ownership with two examples of supralibros, i. e. volumes for which the binding has been personalised to indicate the owner. Such blind-stamps or gold-leaf-stamps were a common alternative to an ex-libris during the 16th – 18th centuries, especially in Southern Europe[35].

Procopus of Cesaria’s De Rebus Gothorum is clothed in a superb leather binding with gilt tooling and a central medallion showing Apollo leading the chariot of the sun to the top of Parnassus,  from which Pegasus surges. The binding, made in Rome around 1545, is attributed to Niccolò Franzese (alias Nicolas Féry, born in Reims), bookbinder to four Popes. It was made for the young Genoese patrician Giovanni Battista Grimaldi (1524-1612) who in 1544 entered Claudio Tolomei’s literary academy in Rome. Tolomei, Grimaldi’s mentor, had a ‘libbraria finita’ of two hundred volumes made for him all with the same binding except for the name of the book and the fact that the leather was red for vernacular languages and olive or brown morocco for volumes in Latin... Moreover, this volume and its peers have a title on the back, which indicates that their owner placed them vertically in his bookcase - a totally new practice, since earlier volumes have undecorated backs, as they were stored flat.

The Herodotus' Historiae Libri IX [36]also kindly shown by the Bodmer Foundation, published by Henri II Estienne in Geneva in 1566, has a decoration termed in French "à la fanfare", in brass band style. It is typical of the most extravagant Paris leather tooling of the time. The arms at the centre are those of Charles, Count Mansfeld (1543-1595), who was educated in France and joined the Spanish army. Appointed general by Phillip II, he became Governor-general of Flanders.  The interlaced CC letters and deltas probably refer to his unfortunate first wife, Diane de Cossé, daughter of the Marquess of Brissac. It is said that her husband had her killed, after having caught her having an affair with Count Maure.




An exhibition in the making...


This brief text contains so many references to the need for research or further research on a wide variety of topics that the exhibition presented under the title 'Origins and early days of ex-libris' cannot be considered more than a sketch of what could be done in the future.


Be they ceramic plaques, inscriptions, illuminations or prints, ex-libris are a fascinating reflection of their time, of their creators, and of owners of books. If someone had a book, he could read; if he could read (and maybe write!), he was by definition a person of certain importance – not always in terms of power and might, but at least in terms of culture. Of course, he passed away and the book lived on, often cherished by someone who maybe even pasted his ex-libris over the earlier owner's. All ex-libris, from the one of Amenophis III to the most recent, are a story of vanitas, of pride of ownership, as ephemeral as it might be. To understand how they first appeared and how they developed is a key to man's relation to books, and thus to culture in its broadest sense. With this exhibition, a first step towards this goal has been made, even if only fragmentary, and one hopes that it holds promises of a more encompassing endeavour to come.


As organiser of the 31st congress of the International Federation of Ex-libris Societies which takes place in neighbouring Nyon from August 23rd to 27th 2006, I wish to warmly thank the Geneva Public and University Library for the loan of manuscripts, Paul C. Becker, Josef Burch and Ottmar Premstaller for lending ex-libris, and most of all the Bodmer Foundation both for lending key works and for generously hosting the exhibition.


[1] EA 22878. It measures 62mm. x 38mm. and is 4.5 mm. thick. The hieroglyphs measure 7mm. in height on average.  It has dark blue text on light blue enamel.

[2] YUG 1936.100. The size is identical to the bottom part of the BM plaque; the colour is said to be the same. See G. Scott, Ancient Egyptian Art at Yale.

[3] E 3043.  It measures 43 mm. x 20.4 mm.

[4] H. R. Hall: An Egyptian royal bookplate: the ex-libris of Amenophis III and Teie. Journal of Egyptian Archaeology, Vol. XII, 1926, pp. 30-33, ill. plate XI.

[5] Nos. 10586 – 10588. There seems to be some confusion as the number given varies according to the author from three to five. Obviously further research into these items must be done.

[6] The volume of uncatalogued material is such that this is hardly surprising.

[7] See Cuneiform inscriptions of Western Asia, Vols II to V (1866-1884); Wallis Budge and King, Guide to the Assyrian Antiquities in the British Museum (London, 1900).

[8] Deutsche Exlibris Zeitschrift, Vol. VIII, 1898, p. 124. In the list of exhibited plates, ‚L-W’ refers to Leinigen-Westerburg’s  German Bookplates (English version, London 1901)

[9] ELJ Vol. X, 1901, pp.120-122.

[10] ELJ Vol. X, 1901, p. 156

[11] Archivo Español de Arte y Arqueología, Exlibris mozárabes, No. XXXII, p. 153-162. Much of the information can be found in ...

[12] The horizontal text at the top of the first plate is obviously much later.

[13]  'this book was finished in 911, our lord Prince Alfonso reigning [over us], the unworthy Armentarius, burdened by a heavy load of sins, wrote it. Pray for me, and your spirit will rest in peace. Amen.'

[14] Escorial I. 3.

[15] 1040-1072, son of Ferdinand I of Castille

[16] No. B 31.

[17] Both Lullin and Petau will be familiar to ex-libris collectors, the first having had a beautiful bookplate by Bernard Picart whose design was subsequently widely pirated, and the second having a classical French early 18th Century heraldic style. The bulk of Petau's collection was acquired by the Paris Bibliothèque Nationale.

[18] Azure, three fleurs-de-lys or.

[19] It is regrettable that it was not possible to borrow, due to a projected exhibition this autumn, Christine de Pisan's Cité des Dames from the Bibliothèque Publique et Universitaire, which contains an exceptional ex-libris: the owner's arms occupy a full frontispiece page.

[20] Cut with 1 azure a deer issant or, 2 banded or and azure

[21] His physiognomy is well-known from many portraits.

[22] This theory was put forward by Bernard Gagnebin, author of a book on the illuminated manuscripts of the Geneva Public and University Library entitled L'enluminure de Charlemagne à François Ier, BPU ed., 1976. Gagnebin's authority in this field is unquestionable.

[23] Or six bezants, the one in chief azure, the others gules.

[24] Gules, crossed keys or. Accompasnied by the letters SPM.

[25] Bookplate literature on these plates abounds and both are illustrated in F. Warnecke’s Die Deutschen Bücherzeichen (ex-libris) von ihrem Ursprunge bis zur Gegenwart, Berlin 1890

[26] HILDEBRAND BRANDENBURG (ex dono), X1/col. + cal., 68 x 65, c. 1480. W 245. Viz. Warnecke intro. p. 7 + ill. p. 8; Lempert 4, taf. iv; Leiningen-Westerburg, p. 94 + ill. frontisp.; Castle p. 29; von Zurwesten p. 24 + ill. p. 21; Berghman p. 32, etc. A bibliography on early ex-libris can be found in I. O’Dell, Deutsche und Osterreichische Exlibris 1500-1599 im British Museum, British Museum Press, 2003, p. 21


[27] ‘Pray for him and for those who depend upon him’.

[28] i. e. ex-libris printed with a blank shield which the owner of the book could fill with his own coat-of-arms – or with graffiti if he didn't have one!

[29] In the Munich library, there is a copy bearing the name of Anna Geuder (see Leiningen-Westerburg, p. 97

[30] The inscription probably dates from the early 16th Century; above, there is an earlier manuscript note (probably c. 1450) and below a later one (1760).

[31] Kindly lent for the exhibition by Klaus Witte, Münster, Germany

[32] WILLIBALD PIRKHEIMER , X1, 172 x 120, c.1500. W1584. Viz. Retberg p. 50; L-W p. 106 + ill. p. 104; etc.

[33] op. cit.

[34] MELCHIOR SCHEDEL, X1/col., 354 x 240, c.1570. Viz. Zur Westen p. 30, ill. p. 43

[35] Some researchers think that in Protestant countries, it was considered preferable to hide one's mark of ownership inside a book, whereas in Catholic countries one could trumpet it on the outside – but no in-depth study of the question had been carried out.

[36] See Jacques Quentin, Fleurons de la Bodmeriana, Bodmer Foundation ed. 2005. A superb and richly documented book, the reflection of an outstanding collection.