Bibliotheca Corviniana was one of the most renowned, and second largest libraries of the Renessaince world. The library was established by King Matthias Corvinus, King of Hungary, Czechs, Poland, Croatia and Transylvania between 1458 and 1490. Matthias was indisputably the greatest man of his day, and one of the greatest monarchs who ever reigned. Though naturally passionate, Matthias’s self-control was almost superhuman, and throughout his stormy life, with his innumerable experiences of ingratitude and treachery, he never was guilty of a single cruel or vindictive action. His capacity for work was inexhaustible. Frequently half his nights were spent in reading, after the labor of his most strenuous days. There was no branch of knowledge in which he did not take an absorbing interest, no polite art which he did not cultivate and encourage. His camp was a school of chivalry, his court a nursery of poets and artists.
Matthias started to collect the books from about 1458. At the king’s death, the library consisted of about 3,000 codices, or “Corvinae” which included 4,000-5,000 works, many of classical Greek and Latin authors. It represented the literary production and reflected the state of knowledge and arts of the Renaissance and included philosophy, theology, history, law, literature, geography, natural sciences, medicine, architecture, and other sciences of the time. A humanist library, comprised largely of the works of classical authors, as well as modern historical and scientific works, the collection included a vast number of beautifully illuminated manuscripts. Works of greek and latin writers, historians, poets,philisophers, mathemathicians, like Ovidius, Homeros, Plinius, Platon and so on – all were part of the Corvina Library. North of the Alps, Matthias’ library was the largest in Europe, and in its contents it was only second to the that time Vatican Library according to contemporary accounts. It was the greatest collection of science in its time. 1489, and Bartolomeo della Fonte of Florence wrote, that Lorenzo de Medici founded his own Greek-Latin library encouraged by the example of the Hungarian king.
The library occupied two rooms on the east side of Buda Castle and was decorated with specially commissioned frescoes and stained-glass windows.T he collection, consisting mostly of manuscript codices and some incunabula (early printed books), evolved from the king’s patronage of the arts and his systematic, purposeful method of collecting, in which he was advised by Galeotto Marzio and Taddeo Ugoletto, the eminent Italian humanists who oversaw the library. Books were arranged according to their content – mathematic, physic, theology, etc. – and languages. All group of book got a silk cover of a different colour, and was listed in a register.
Near two thirds of the surviving volumes had not been printed before the king’s death. Some of them contained the sole copy of the works in them, like the book of Constantine Porphyrogennetos on the habits in the court of the Byzantine emperor, or the church history of Nikephoros Kallistos. We also know about Corvinae, with which the only copy of ancient books perished, including the full works of Hypereides, writings by Flavius Cresconius Corippus, Procopius and Cuspinianus.
The library was dispersed soon after the death of the king, and today just over 200 volumes of it have been identified. and can be found in several libraries in Europe, like Hungary, Vienna Oxford, Torun and Naples. Some 127 books, guarded in Istanbul’s Topkapi Serai for centuries, were given back by the Turkish goverment in 1970’s.
Items from the Bibliotheca Corviniana were inscribed on UNESCO’s Memory of World the Register in 2005 in recognition of their historical significance.