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Department Collections

The Department of Manuscripts and Printed Books houses world-class collections fit for a National Library under the roof of a fine arts museum and is home to two highly renowned research projects.


Detail from the Founder's LibraryThe heart of the department is the Founder’s Library, an integral part of the Founder’s Building, opened to the public in 1848. The Library retains its original fittings of carved oak bookcases, classical columns and pilasters, and an expansive marble fireplace, all designed to reflect the gentleman’s library at its core, the collection of Richard, 7th Viscount Fitzwilliam (1745-1816). His bequest of over 10,000 printed books, 130 manuscripts, and a wealth of musical scores and early printed music has been enriched by the generosity of later benefactors, such as Frank McClean (1837-1904) and Charles Brinsley Marlay (1831-1912), and the purchases of scholarly Directors, such as Sydney Cockerell (1908-1937), so that the department’s holdings now range from early printed books to modern literary autographs, from the archives of novelists and poets to the correspondence of painters and composers, from autograph scores by Handel and Elgar to early printed music, and from ninth-century Byzantine Gospel Books to Persian poetry  and to some of the finest medieval and Renaissance manuscripts in existence.

The collections are the focus of advanced conservation and research projects by the department's conservators, curators and research associates. 

The Department’s collections can be consulted by researchers by appointment. Please visit our Research Facilities page.



Online Exhibitions

  • COLOUR: The Art and Science of Illuminated Manuscripts

    This online exhibition presents a selection of the manuscripts displayed in the Fitzwilliam Museum’s bicentenary exhibition COLOUR: The Art and Science of Illuminated Manuscripts (30 July – 30 December 2016). An exhibition of medieval and Renaissance manuscripts is a fitting celebration of the Museum’s bicentenary. The Fitzwilliam preserves the finest and largest museum collection of illuminated manuscripts in existence, and manuscripts were at the heart of the Founder’s collection with which the Museum was established in 1816. Among the treasures which Richard, 7th Viscount Fitzwilliam of Merrion (1745-1816), bequeathed to the University of Cambridge were 130 illuminated manuscripts.

  • Under the Covers: The Conservation and Rebinding of Fitzwilliam MS 251

    This resource is designed to show the conservation work which was carried out on MS 251, from the initial decision-making process through the conservation of the leaves to the eventual rebinding, a project which took 214 hours to complete.