Category Archives: Books

Greek mythology of the huntress Atalanta

Atalanta fugiens (Oppenheim 1618. Fag.K.6.4) is an alchemical emblem book, written by German physician Michael Maier, with engravings by Theodor de Bry. The book title refers to the story in Greek mythology of the huntress Atalanta. The first edition of Atalanta fugiens was published in 1617. It combines fascinating engravings, prose (Latin), verse (Latin and German) and also pieces of music in the form of fugues. The entire volume has been digitised and is shown below in two parts.

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The oldest printed book in the Fagel Library

The oldest printed book in the Fagel Library is Plutarch’s Vitae illustrium virorum sive parallelae, printed in 1478 in Venice by Nicolaus Jenson. This two-volume Latin translation of Plutarch’s Parallel Lives (or Lives of the Noble Greeks and Romans) is illuminated by the miniaturist known as the Master of the London Pliny. It was decorated for a Venetian merchant family, the Agostini. A selection of pages from the first volume, Fag.GG.2.1, is shown below. Continue reading The oldest printed book in the Fagel Library

Excavations of the Roman town Pompeii

William Hamilton worked as a British diplomat in the Kingdom of Naples. There, he studied the volcanic activities of Mount Vesuvius and its effects on the ‘Campi Phlegraei’, the area around Naples called the ‘flaming fields’. Hamilton wrote about his discoveries to the Royal Society, and became a Fellow. His account of the eruption of 1772 was published as Campi phlegræi. Observations on the volcanoes of the Two Sicilies as they have been communicated to the Royal Society by Sir William Hamilton (Naples 1776), in the form of letters in both English and French. The hand coloured illustrations by Pietro Fabris do not only show Naples and the volcano, but also the excavations of the Roman town Pompeii, discovered in 1748. A selection of plates is shown below.

Campi phlegræi. Observations on the volcanoes of the Two Sicilies as they have been communicated to the Royal Society by Sir William Hamilton (Naples 1776) Fag.GG.2.17

Cabinet of Curiosities

This beautifully illustrated thesaurus gives the reader a look at Albertus Seba’s collection of exotic plants and animals. Pharmacist Seba stored all his items in his house in Amsterdam. After he sold his first collection to Tsar Peter the Great in 1716, he started collecting again, and in 1734 he published the first part of his Locupletissimi rerum naturalium thesauri accurata descriptio, a description of his ‘cabinet of curiosities’ filled with the ‘rarest natural objects’.



Locupletissimi rerum naturalium thesauri accurata descriptio (Amsterdam 1734) Fag.N.1.63

Insects and their metamorphosis

The Fagel Library holds a lot of impressive books on biology and natural history, but Maria Sibylla Merian’s Metamorphosis insectorum Surinamensium (Amsterdam 1719) is without a doubt one of the most spectacular. Merian, a German-born illustrator and entomologist, travelled to (the former Dutch colony) Surinam in 1699, where she studied insects and their metamorphosis. After two years she returned to the Dutch Republic, where she published the first edition of this book in 1705. It is considered one the most beautiful books on natural history ever published in the Netherlands. A selection of pages and plates is shown below.

Maria Sibylla Merian’s Metamorphosis insectorum Surinamensium (Amsterdam 1719). Fag.GG.2.10.

a unique collection of early modern printed books

Printed books

With the Fagel Library, Trinity College Dublin holds a unique collection of early modern printed books. This collection of approximately 11,000 titles contains books on an enormous variety of subjects. There are books on biology and natural history, medicine and human anatomy, studies on theology and religion, collected works from authors of classical antiquity, treatises on military affairs and naval warfare, on history and chronology, mathematics and physics, commerce and trade, art and architecture, and on the education of children. There are encyclopaedias and dictionaries, novels and poetry in various languages, and books written by the main protagonists of the Reformation and the famous philosophers of the Enlightenment. Some of the books are beautifully illustrated and hand-coloured, printed in limited editions, and some of them are so scarce they can only be found in a few libraries in Europe.

The main searching tool for the printed books in the Fagel Library is still the ‘Bibliotheca Fageliana’ auction catalogue of 1802, prepared by Samuel Paterson for Christie’s auction house. Thanks to an (ongoing) analysis by Dr Ingmar Vroomen of more than 9,000 lot numbers in this catalogue, we now have an overview of the contents of the library.

The books in the Fagel Library came from all over early modern Europe, from Poland to Portugal and from Sweden to Italy. However, most books were printed in three countries: the Dutch Republic (30%), England (27%) and France (14%), with Amsterdam, London and Paris as the main centres of the printing industry. Although most of the analysed titles in the Fagel Library were printed in the Dutch Republic, books written in Dutch were of little importance. Latin was still the most prominent language in the library, followed by English and French. But there were also books in German, Greek, Italian, Hebrew, Spanish and even Arabic, Russian and Hungarian. Over 60% of the books in the Fagel Library were printed in the eighteenth century, and 25% in the seventeenth century. The oldest printed book in the library dates from 1478. Even though Hendrik Fagel the Younger sold a part of his library (‘duplicates and useless books’) in 1792, he continued collecting until 1799 and the newest book dates from then.

But the Fagel Library is more than this very impressive collection of early modern books. Because Trinity College bought the library in 1802 in its entirety before it was auctioned, and hence we know the previous owners, the Fagel Library gives us an insight into the world of one of the most prominent families in the Dutch Republic of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and into the world of the well-educated political elite in early modern Europe in general. No matter how valuable, rare and special some of the books are, the Fagel Library as a whole is worth more than the sum of its parts. This is what makes the Fagel Library really unique.

Ingmar Vroomen


Highlights of the Collection:

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Metamorphosis insectorum Surinamensium (Amsterdam 1719) Fag.GG.2.10
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Locupletissimi rerum naturalium thesauri accurata descriptio (Amsterdam 1734) Fag.N.1.63
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Campi phlegræi. Observations on the volcanoes of the Two Sicilies as they have been communicated to the Royal Society by Sir William Hamilton (Naples 1776) Fag.GG.2.17