Looking for Digitized Works by Erasmus and his Contemporaries? Go to Lovaniensia.be

By Dr An Smets |

In 2017 KU Leuven Libraries and the Bibliothèques de UCLouvain launched Lovaniensia.be, with financial support in the context of the cultural cooperation agreement between the Flemish and the French community. With this platform, both institutions wanted to make available material from the old academic collection, or Collectio academica antiqua (Caa). This collection brings together all the works published by members of the Old University of Louvain, from its foundation in 1425 until its abolition by the French government in 1797. When Louvain University was split into two in the 1970s, the old academic collection was divided between the two universities. The reconstituting of these works on a common digital platform makes the collection as a whole accessible to both academic researchers and to anyone interested in the intellectual history of the southern Low Countries. Further development of the platform in 2018 and 2019 was made possible thanks to its recognition as an international cultural heritage project by the Flemish Community’s Culture, Youth and Media department.

KU Leuven Libraries, Special Collections, CaaA240, fol. a1r.
Martinus Dorpius, Oratio in Prælectionem Epistolarum Diui Pauli et De Laudibus Pauli […], with Epistola Erasmi Ad Dorpiu[m]. Basileae: In Aedibvs Io. Frobenii, 1520.KU Leuven Libraries, Special Collections, CaaA240, fol. a1r.
Selection Criteria

The staff and the researchers behind the platform decided to digitize first works by Erasmus and a selected group of 22 other authors, for the most part, contemporaries of Erasmus. At the time of writing (i.e. June 2019), 355 works have been uploaded to Lovaniensia, of which 229 are editions by Erasmus (142 as author and 87 as a contributor). Not all the books of these authors were digitized: full digitization was done for rare books published up to 1540, which include all works published during the lifetime of Erasmus, who died in 1536. If a good copy is already available online, there will be a link to that copy, and no new digitization will be made from the book kept in Louvain or Louvain-la-Neuve. This means that the digital images that were made public through this project, at least for the books printed from 1541 onwards, were not available elsewhere before.

KU Leuven Libraries, Special Collections, CaaA700, fol. z8v
Hadrianus Barlandus, Epitome Chiliadvm Adagiorvm Erasmi Roterodami: Ad Commodiorem
Stvdiosorvm Vsvm. Basileae: [Thomas Wolff], 1528. KU Leuven Libraries, Special Collections, CaaA700, fol. z8v.
The Authors

As mentioned above, KU Leuven Libraries and the Bibliothèques de l’UCLouvain digitized works by Erasmus and 22 other authors. Some of these other authors were closely linked to the Collegium Trilingue, of which Erasmus can be seen as the founding father (see Gielis 2018 and Papy ed. 2018). Among them are the first professors of Latin, Greek and Hebrew, viz. Adrianus Barlandus (1486-1538), Rutger Rescius (1495-1545) and Mattheus Adrianus (1475-1530). Another professor, Johannes Campensis (1491-1538), taught Hebrew from 1520 to 1531. Also linked to the Collegium Trilingue, but as a student, is Nicolaus Clenardus (1493-1542), who is the author of several handbooks on Latin, Greek and Hebrew, but who is mainly known for his profound interest in Arabic. Guilielmus Nesen (1493-1525) should also be mentioned as belonging to the inner circle of this institution, although he was never a teacher at the Collegium Trilingue. A last ‘philologist’ whose books were digitized is Joannes Despauterius (1480-1520).

Erasmus had frequent contact not only with language scholars, but also with theologians, among them Adrianus Florentius (1459-1523), the later pope Adrianus VI, who was his teacher. Erasmus counted both allies and opponents within the group of contemporary Louvain theologians, and some of them, like Johannes Briardus († 1520), were opponents who became allies, whilst Martinus Dorpius (1485-1525) sometimes showed a strong sympathy for Erasmus’s ideas and at other moments was a fierce opponent in theological disputes (See Geudens & Verbeke 2016). However, Erasmus’s best-known adversaries were Jacobus Latomus (1475-1544) and his pupil Franciscus Titelmannus (1498-1537). On the other hand, Joannes Driedo (1480-1535), Godeschalc Rosemondt (1483-1526) and Ruardus Tapperus (1487-1559) were (most of the time) favourable to a humanistic approach to theology. Finally, Johannes Hentenius (1499-1566) was both critical of Erasmus and familiar with the three classical languages. It is also worth mentioning that later professors of theology, like Cornelius Jansenius (1510-1576), were alumni of the Collegium Trilingue. The last theologians with digitized works in Lovaniensia were included for their important writings, but do not belong to the time of Erasmus: indeed, Joannes Lensaeus (1541-1593) and Franciscus Lucas Brugensis (1549-1619) were not yet born when Erasmus died. The last two authors, Nicolaus Everardus (1462-1532) and Gabriel Mudaeus (1500-1560), were not theologians but professors in law and did live at the time of Erasmus. The latter was even a close friend of his.

Created by scholars in language, law and theology, the books uploaded to Lovaniensia give a good picture of the humanistic atmosphere that reigned in Louvain at the beginning of the sixteenth century. These works are a testament to the growth of humanism, but also highlight that this intellectual movement was not meet with universal approval. However, this project is only the first step. The ultimate goal is the complete digitization of the old academic collection, particularly in the context of the 600th anniversary of the University in 2025.

Dr An Smets is curator at KU Leuven Libraries Special Collections (Belgium), where she is following up several digitization projects. She is the coordinator of the Lovaniensia-project and was co-editor of the Ex Cathedra book on lecture notes. You can follow her on Twitter (@Anbib) or connect on LinkedIn.

The author wished to thank prof. dr. Guido Latré (UCLouvain) and his wife Susan Reed for their revision of the English text.

This text will be included as part of the introduction in Anthony Dupont, Wim François, Andrea Robiglio, Violet Soen (eds.), Authority Revisited: Towards Thomas More and Erasmus in 1516 (Lectio: Studies in the Transmission of Texts and Ideas), Turnhout, Brepols Publishers — forthcoming.

Further reading:

  • Geudens & D. Verbeke (2016), ‘Tussen scholastiek en humanisme. Maarten van Dorp, Desiderius Erasmus en Thomas More’, in De Boekenwereld 32/2, p. 14-21.
  • Gielis (2018), ‘Overcoming conflict. The symbiosis of scholasticism and humanism at the Leuven Faculty of Theology’, In J. Papy (ed.), The Leuven Collegium Trilingue 1517-1797: Erasmus, humanist educational practice and the new language institute Latin – Greek – Hebrew, Leuven – Paris – Bristol: Peeters, p. 33-56.
  • Papy (ed., 2018), The Leuven Collegium Trilingue 1517-1797: Erasmus, humanist educational practice and the new language institute: Latin, Greek, Hebrew, Leuven – Paris – Bristol: Peeters.

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