There was nothing predestined or straightforward about the collection’s long road from being the court library of this early modern territorial sovereign to becoming an internationally renowned research library. Thanks to a great deal of luck, however, its holdings have managed to withstand the tests of time. Once Duke Augustus had assembled one of the largest collections of books in Europe in the mid-17th century, Wolfenbüttel began to attract travellers from many different countries. His universal library contains literature from all areas of knowledge and to this day it continues to form the core of the institution bearing his name.
Despite the library’s age – and the even greater age of some of its manuscripts and printed works – the library does not serve simply as a museum for venerable and dusty old tomes. On the contrary, it enjoys a long history as a place where knowledge is produced and communicated. That the library sees so much use is in itself a justification of the fact that ‘so many books have been amassed here at such great expense’, as Gotthold Ephraim Lessing once noted. This is why the library’s great significance cannot be judged solely by the books that it holds but first and foremost by the books that the library itself has made possible and brought forth.
The exhibition focuses on the books that have a special relationship with the HAB and which would never have been written were it not for the library. The old works continue to give rise to new books: scholarly treatises as well as novels, travel guides, catalogues, editions and facsimiles – and let us not forget the fascinating artist’s books. The great selection of exhibited works allows visitors to experience the potentials for discovery, research and invention that this multifaceted treasury of books has made possible and to see how these works have been used over the last 450 years.
To celebrate its anniversary, the Herzog August Bibliothek will also exhibit a number of precious original works, most importantly the 12th-century Gospel Book of Henry the Lion and Matilda of England.
This illuminated medieval masterpiece can only be exhibited infrequently and then only for very short periods of time. Alongside the magnificent Gospel Book, visitors can also enjoy unique manuscripts and rare prints, as well as a selection of curiosities that were once used to keep visitors amused.
The exhibition will be held in the Bibliotheca Augusta from 6 April to 3 July 2022. The Gospel Book of Henry the Lion and Matilda of England will be on display from 6 April to 17 March.
Bibliotheca Augusta museum opening hours: Tuesday–Sunday, 10 am to 5 pm
Admission: €5 (reduced: €2/1; free for children under 12)
Abbildung: Der Fürst als gelehrter Autor: Herzog August von Braunschweig-Lüneburg (1579-1666), Kupferstich von Adriaen Matham, 1646.