Medieval miniatures from Byvanck to the RKD

Middeleeuwse miniaturen van Byvanck naar RKD

Illuminated manuscripts – hand-written and decorated books from the Middle Ages – were frequently produced as precious objects enhanced with painted and drawn images. The Dutch cultural heritage of illuminated manuscripts is described in the Byvanck database. The RKD will make this treasury of material available online as well as continue to enrich the data.  


During the project Medieval miniatures from Byvanck to the RKD, the Byvanck database of more than 4000 illuminated manuscripts will be integrated into RKD Research and made available online to everyone. 

Byvanck database 

The Byvanck database provides access to more than 4000 illuminated manuscripts. It contains descriptions of almost all (about 3000) illuminated manuscripts in Dutch collections. Many of these were originally made within the borders of the present-day Netherlands, but Dutch collections also include richly illuminated manuscripts from the Southern Netherlands, France, Italy and other countries. In addition to these, the Byvanck database contains many manuscripts in foreign collections that are known to have been produced in the Northern Netherlands. As a result, the Netherlands is the only country in the world to have a virtually complete overview of its cultural heritage of medieval illuminated manuscripts. 


The project started in 2022 under the leadership of the senior curator of medieval manuscript illumination, Anne Margreet As-Vijvers. The RKD plans to make the Byvanck database available in RKD Research by the middle of 2024. The next step will be the development and launch in 2025 of an art historical web portal containing scholarly information and knowledge about manuscript illumination in the (Northern) Netherlands: Medieval Dutch Manuscript Illumination (MDMI). 


The project Medieval miniatures from Byvanck to the RKD has been funded by contributions from Stichting Pica, the Cultuurfonds (specifically the Atelierpraktijken fund), Stichting Art, Books & Collections, the Hendrik Muller Fonds, Stichting Zabawas as well as a private donor. Stichting Dioraphte funded the pilot project Medieval Miniatures in the 21st century, which ran from February to June 2021 on behalf of Stichting Alexander Willem Byvanck Genootschap. Project partners are Stichting Alexander Willem Byvanck Genootschap, eCodicesNL and Bibliotheek Rotterdam


The Byvanck database has been built up since 1989 by the researchers of Stichting Alexander Willem Byvanck Genootschap. The database describes not only the manuscripts, but also the images they contain: from full-page miniatures to smaller marginal illustrations. The miniatures in illuminated manuscripts have survived in far greater numbers than medieval panel paintings. By integrating the Byvanck database into RKD Research, the images will be placed in the broader context of Netherlandish art history. Moreover, given that illuminated manuscripts can be localized and dated with relative certainty, this means that we are creating a state-of-the-art research tool designed for future multidisciplinary research into the relationships between manuscript illumination and other forms of artistic production.