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A Unique Exhibition in the ELTE Library

2011.03.19

The University Library in Budapest is more than a facility aimed at supporting students in their studies: it offers numerous interesting sights and readings outside the examination period, too. Those who are fond of history and the art of books might find the book exhibition open till the end of March a rare specialty, as it presents unique items of Hungarian and European book culture from the 11th to the 18th centuries.

The University Library will be celebrating some 450 years of operation this year, and this was one of the reasons for organising the exhibition, which can be visited free of charge in Budapest between 2 and 31 March 2011, in the historical downtown building of the institution.

A substantial collection of the masterpieces of Hungarian book culture has been preserved in the library, but the special collections of curiosities can rarely be seen, and are mostly accessible to researchers only. The University Library fulfils a special role among libraries, having collected publications since 1561, although, of course, this has only been done systematically since much later. In addition to being a public library, it is also a library museum today, with special collections arranged by centuries and book curiosities that the audience can only very rarely see. This is only natural if we consider the fact that the collection has items whose value is hardly measurable. Some rare pieces of the collection that might also be interesting to the lay audience can now be seen, even if only for a short while.

One of the oldest publications in the exhibition is a parchment codex from 11th century Byzantium, followed by rarities exhibited in chronological order. Naturally, the first few cases contain handwritten works on parchment, which are followed by the first prints, and publications and books reproduced with the most diverse technologies. The prestigious selection contains manuscripts as well as prints in Latin, German, Greek and Hungarian. Naturally, the collection should not only be interesting to those who speak the given languages, as most of the codices and prints have unique figures and coloured illustrations. In compiling the exhibition material, the crew also kept in mind the aspect of variety: they aimed to create an exhibition that highlights the simultaneous social impact of different cultural currents that existed side by side. In accordance with this, the exhibited manuscripts and publications include copies of the New Testament, Bible commentaries, religious legends as well as books with secular content: historical, linguistic, geographical, mathematical and botanical works. Among other things, two volumes of the famous Corvina library of King Matthias and the definitive 16th century publications that impacted all of Europe, the works of Kepler and Copernicus, have also been exhibited. Naturally, visitors cannot hold the invaluable exhibition material in their hands: it can only be seen through glass, but those who are interested in Hungarian and European culture will have an opportunity to study and muse over them extensively even so.

The exhibition material is accompanied by explanatory texts in Hungarian, but guiding in English, German and French is also available by appointment. The exhibition is open until 31 March 2011, between 12 and 6 PM on workdays, free of charge, in the first floor hall of the University Library: Budapest, 5th District, Ferenciek tere 6.