“The State Library of Bavaria, Part I” by S.M. O’Connor

The Bayerische Staatsbibliothek (Bavarian State Library), known as the B.S.B. for short, is the Landesbibliothek (state library) of the Free State of Bavaria, and is one of the oldest and largest government libraries on the continent.  There are twenty-five state libraries in the Federal Republic of Germany.  Germany has three outstanding libraries in the Bavarian State Library, the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin (Berlin State Library), and the Deutsche Nationalbibliothek (German National Library).

The history of the Bavarian State Library is tied up with the Wittelsbach Dynasty.[1]  This family founded the library and maintained it for centuries.

Collections now consist of approximately 10,360,000 books, 55,000 current periodicals, and 93,000 manuscripts.  The B.S.B. states, “Every year approximately 150,000 volumes are added, which are selected and catalogued systematically according to scholarly criteria.”

One of the best research libraries in the world, it has the world’s largest collection of incunabula (books, pamphlets, and broadsides printed before 1501).  It has the second-largest collection of journals in Europe after the British Library.

In 1558, Albrecht V (1528-1570), Duke of Bavaria (1550-1579) – known as Duke Albert V of Bavaria to English-speakers – founded the Munich court library by purchasing the private library of the Imperial Chancellor Johann Albrecht Widmannstetter (1506-1557), a scholar and statesman who as a widower was ordained a priest shortly before he died, in Austria. A Christian humanist and Orientalist, his library of 300 manuscripts on philology, theology, medicine, and science, included 140 works in Hebrew and fifty in Arabic.

Originally, the ducal library was located in the Kanzleigewoelbe (chambers vault) of the Alter Hof (Old Court), a ducal residence (and an imperial residence in the early 1300s during the reign of Emperor Ludwig IV) where the Wittlesbach dukes kept government offices after they took up residence in the more secure Münchner Residenz (Munich Palace).  Duke Albrecht V also kept his art collection in the Old Court.  With a collection of approximately 11,000 volumes, at the time of his death, Albrecht V had the second-biggest library in the Holy Roman Empire after the Imperial Library in Vienna.[2]

In 1561, Aegidius Oertel of Nuremburg became the first court librarian.  [At this time, the main users of the ducal library were members of the Society of Jesus, as the Jesuits had been invited into the duchy in 1559.]  In 1571, the private library of the Augsburg banker Johann Jakob Fugger, a bibliophile whose 10,000-volume collection included books acquired in Spain, Italy, and the Netherlands, as well as the collection earlier amassed by the Nuremberg physician, historian, and humanist Hartmann Schedel (1440-1514), was acquired for the court library.

That same year, 1571, after the construction of the Antiquarium (hall of antiquities) in the Alte Residenz (Old Residence) palace in the Munich Residenz complex, the library was allocated one floor above the rest of the antiquities, but in 1599 the library returned to the Alter Hof, this time to its north wing.  William V (1548-1626), Duke of Bavaria (1579-1597) known as Duke William the Pius, continued to expand the collection.  By 1600, the collection consisted of 17,000 volumes.

Parts of the collection were moved to a secure location during the Thirty Years War (1618-1648).  Some books were lost in the process.  Scholars found it difficult to access the collection during this period.

In 1663, the Bavarian legal-deposit law entered into force. From that point onward, the library has received two copies of every book published in Bavaria, making it the repository library of Bavaria.  The ducal library was already amongst the largest in Europe.

Max III Joseph (1727-1777), Prince Elector of the Holy Roman Empire and Duke of Bavaria (1745-1777)  was interested in the arts and sciences and allocated funds for the library to purchase books. In 1759, the library became part of the newly founded Academy of Sciences, and it was also accessible for court officials and professors of the University of Ingolstadt (which later moved to Landshut in 1800 and in 1805 moved to Munich and became Ludwig Maximilian University).

In 1756, Karl Theodor (1724-1799), Margrave of Bergen op Zoom (1728-1799), Prince Elector of the Holy Roman Empire and Count Palatinate (1742-1799) founded the court library of Mannheim. When the old Bavarian line of the Wittelsbach dynasty died out with Maximilian III Joseph in 1777, Karl Theodor, who belonged to the Palatinate-Sulzbach cadet branch of the House of Wittelsbach, became Duke of Bavaria, following the War of the Bavarian Succession.

He moved to Munich in 1778.  Karl Theodor acquired for the ducal library a number works of contemporary French and Italian literature, as well as the library of the Florentine humanist Petrus Victorius, purchased in Rome.

In 1778, Karl Theodor ordered the move of the library to the Mauthaus (toll house) in Theatinerstrasse (Theatine Street), into which also the Bavarian Academy of Sciences had moved almost two decades before.  Five years later, in 1783, after the integration of the holdings of the dissolved Jesuit college, it moved to the Alte Akademie (Old Academy), the former school building of the Jesuits next to the Michaelskirche (St. Michael’s Church), again together with the Bavarian Academy of Sciences.[3]  The library would remain in the school building until 1826.

Upon Karl Theodor’s death without legitimate issue, he was succeeded by his cousin, Max Joseph (1756-1825).  A member of the Palatinate-Zweibrücken-Birkenfeld branch of the House of Wittelsbach, he served as Duke of Zweibrücken (1795-1799) as Maximilian I, Prince Elector of the Holy Roman Empire and Duke of Bavaria (1799-1805) as Maximilian IV Joseph, and King of Bavaria (1806-1825) as Maximilian I. Bavarians fought on both sides during the Napoleonic Wars, but Bavaria definitely benefitted from the enlightened despotism of Napoleon I while Bavaria was an ally of the First French Empire.  When Napoleon raised Bavaria from a duchy to a kingdom, he arranged for Bavaria to annex smaller states (or parts thereof) on its borders and secularize the landholdings of monasteries internally, the Bibliotheca Regia Monacensis (Library Royal of Munich) gained approximately 450,000 printed books and 18,600 manuscripts from monastic libraries and the libraries of prince-bishops in 1802-03.

In 1803-04, the 100,000-volume court library of the Electorate of the Palatine (Electoral Palatinate), started by the aforementioned Elector Karl Theodor, was transferred from Mannheim to Munich.  By 1818, the holdings reached 500,000 printed volumes – half of them from the secularized monasteries – and 18,600 manuscripts.

The B.S.B. states the Court and State Library, as it was then called, “ranked second in Europe behind the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris,” according to foreign scholars. The librarians felt there were 200,000 duplicate volumes on hand, but by modern standards most of these volumes would not be considered duplicates.

Between 1814 and 1850, the cataloguing of the enormous number of works acquired in the course of the secularization was undertaken. Johann Andreas Schmeller catalogued the collection of manuscripts and Martin Schrettinger catalogued the printed works.

architecture bavaria building castle
Photo by Lum3n.com on Pexels.com

Caption: This is a picture of Schloss Neuschwanstein (Castle New Swan Stone), a Romanesque Revival-style castle keep built by order of Ludwig II (1845-1886), King of Bavaria (1864-1886).


[1] The House of Wittelsbach and cadet houses of the Wittelsbach Dynasty supplied Bavaria with dukes and kings from 1180 to 1918; the Holy Roman Empire with two emperors and a king of the Romans; Sweden with four monarchs (1652-1720); one king each for Denmark, Sweden, and Norway (1440s); and Greece (1832-1852); one anti-king of Hungary elected in 1305; two anti-kings of Bohemia elected in 1619 and 1742; five Archbishop-Prince Electors of Cologne (1583-1761); Counts Palatine of the Rhine (1214-1803); counts of Holland, Hainaut, and Zeeland (1345-1432); dukes of Jülich-Berg (1614-1794); and dukes of Bremen-Verden (1654-1719).

[2] Felix F. Strauss, “The ‘Liberey’ of Duke Ernst of Bavaria (1500-1560),” Studies in the Renaissance, Volume 8, 1961, p. 128

[3] The aforementioned William V had ordered the construction of the Jesuit church and school.  The Jesuits were expelled from Bavaria in 1773, at which point the school began to house army cadets.

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