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Byvanck Society Database of medieval miniature illustrations online

Thanks to the Byvanck database, the Netherlands is the only country in the world that has an almost complete overview of its medieval miniature art. This database was built up by the members of the Alexander Willem Byvanck Society in the period 1987-2001. Since 2002, this work has ground to a halt due to lack of capacity. The result of fifteen years of diligent scientific work was in danger of being lost to the field. For this reason, the foundation took the initiative of raising funds to make the Byvanck database available online and to update it with the latest scientific knowledge. The foundation found Dioraphte willing to finance the Medieval Miniatures project for the twenty-first century.

The project is the preparation for a follow-up project, the aim of which is to actually bring the Byvanck database online and to expand on its content. The database will be integrated into the digital infrastructure of the Netherlands Institute for Art History (RKD). The online RKD Images collection contains visual material on the visual arts in the Netherlands from around 1200 to the present day. To date, miniatures have rarely been represented in it.

Illuminated books

The database, which until now was housed in the KB|national library, will be moved to the RKD (Netherlands Institute for Art History). In her capacity as project leader, Anne Margreet As-Vijvers will take care of the Byvanck collection, and standardise and organise it. The final objective is to make the database generally accessible to art historians, book historians, Dutch language specialists, medievalists, library and museum curators, collectors and other culture lovers. She explains why the collection is so important: ‘The database contains over four thousand medieval manuscripts. These include practically all the manuscripts that exist in the Northern Netherlands. The miniatures are special in themselves, and especially so because hardly any paintings from the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries have survived. So, the vast majority of what we have in images from that period are illustrations in illuminated manuscripts. The Byvanck database has got over twenty thousand of them! The icing on the cake is the fact that you can find their local origin and date them with relative ease.’