Clementine Collection (a.k.a. the Albani Library)


The nearly ten-thousand volume Albani Library was acquired by the Catholic University of America in 1928. The residue of the Albani family's combined Urbino and Rome libraries, this collection comprises church history, canon and Roman law, Jansenism, Italian literature and numerous presentation copies, gifts to Pope Clement XI and to his nephews. Also present are two book catalogs in manuscript, one compiled in 1701 and the other begun around 1720, which document the contents of the Urbino library near the beginning and end of Clement's pontificate. As a window into readership and collecting practices of the early 18th century, these volumes are primary sources which will be the first priority in the RBSC department's planned digitization efforts. The 1720 catalog includes a key to the in-house classification scheme used for a portion of the collection. Books were identified by paper labels pasted on the spines, which indicate press and shelf numbers in letterpress, and leave space for the book number to be added by hand. Below is the label on a volume of the Plantin Polyglot - case C, shelf I ("primo ordine"), book number 22 lettered within the trimount, a component of the Albani coat of arms.



Form as well as content make this a collection of bibliographic interest. Most of the volumes are in their original bindings, generally simple vellum or tacketed bindings, but with a substantial number of elaborate gilt goatskin examples, especially among the presentation copies. Many of the latter are armorial bindings, with the coats of arms of various members of the Albani family or of  ranking ecclesiastics of the period. In another category are the delicate paper covers formed of ornate and colorful "Dutch gilt" paper, a sample of which is shown at the top of this page.

With the exception of a handful of titles, the volumes in the Clementine Collection are uncataloged, and the Catholic University's copies are not reflected in WorldCat. Furthermore, some 30% of the titles in this collection are unique and unrepresented either in WorldCat or in European libraries. We estimate that some 2000 volumes are 16th-century imprints, which, when cataloged will double RBSC's holdings of such volumes. The importance of bringing to light these works for students and researchers impels the small staff of RBSC to embark on what will doubtless prove a lengthy process of cataloging the Clementine. We plan to use the Ascendonica blog to showcase the discoveries made in the Clementine Collection as we bring this "Archivio Segreto" into the light of the 21st century.




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