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Overviews of the Collections

The Italian Collections at the Library of Congress

Carol Armbruster
Former French and Italian Area Specialist

Rare Books

Among the rich holdings of Italian materials in the Rare Book Division are a number of collections that contain Italian materials. They include:   

Accademia della Crusca Collection: 1,134 titles dispersed throughout the Rare Book collection. These are Italian-language publications representing the best usage of Italian in the humanities and sciences, 1500-1887, which are cited as examples of good Italian usage in the Vocabolario, the authoritative dictionary prepared by the Academy.

Galileo's Dialogo: Stefano de la Bella -- Fioenza 1632The Anarchism Collection: Anarchism publications prepared for U.S. foreign-language communities. This collection is heavily Italian, and includes books, pamphlets, serial issues, and ephemeral items relating to the study of anarchy printed between the 1850s and the 1970s. The collection focuses on the history and philosophy of anarchism and the lives and writings of its major proponents. Of particular interest are pamphlets documenting the beliefs and activities of local organizations and short-lived movements. Katherine Golden Bitting Collection: Fifteenth- through twentieth-century publications and manuscripts on gastronomy. The treasure of this collection is a mid-fifteenth-century Italian manuscript entitled Libro de arte coquinaria of Maestro Martino, which was a source for the earliest printed cookbook, Platina's De Honesta Voluptate (ca. 1475). The Rosenwald Collection: One of the Library's more important collections (the crown jewel of rare book collections), in which Italian materials are very strongly represented. Its incunabula and sixteenth-century presses represent the most important extant, illustrated works printed during this period in Italy.

Among other rare items, there are a number of noteworthy encyclopedias in this collection, including the first Western encyclopedia, Pliny the Elder's Naturalis Historia (first printed edition, that of Johannes de Spira, issued in Venice in 1469); the earliest of the vernacular encyclopedias, Brunetto Latini's Il Tesoro (Treviso: Gerardus de Lisa, de Flandria, (1474); Suidas' Lexicon graecum (Milan, 1492); Etymologicum magnum (Venice, 1499); and Tobias Cohen's Ma'aseh Toviyah (Venice, 1708). 


The responsibilities of the Law Library to provide analyses to Congress and government agencies require a comprehensive collection of current legal resources from Italy. The historical collections reflect, as do the general collections and some of the special collections, the importance of European and specifically Italian sources for developments in American and international law. Special items and collections include:
  • Historical collections of Roman Law: the basis of judicial theory and practice from the collections of laws compiled by the Emperor Justinian in 528-34 and known as the Corpus juris civilis. This forms the basis for law in most of Europe, Latin America, Africa, and Asia. The collection allows the study of Roman law's sequence of transformation, codification, and growth, for example in the Codex Theodosianus, Codex Gregorianus, Fragmenta Vaticana, and the Lex Romana Wisigothorum and Corpus Juris Civilis of 1583. By the time Justinian's collections were printed, the work of two schools of commentators was available for inclusion. A school of "glossators" founded at Bologna under Irnerius in the 12th century had added interlinear and marginal notes or glosses clarifying and interpreting the text. The glosses in the 1468 Mainz edition of the Institutiones are attributed to Franciscus Accursius and Accursius Gloassator, the last of the prominent glossators. The collection is also rich in "post-glossators" of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, whose systematic compilation and analysis of the Corpus juris civilis adapted it to the legal, social and economic conditions of the time.
  • Canon Law Collection: Derived and glossed ecclesiastical law coordinated and synthesized by the twelfth Italian monk and educator Gratian, the Decretum Gratiani. This collection includes works of important church figures of the seventeenth and eighteenth century and early editions of the ecclesiastical law of the Roman Catholic Church. It includes a copy of Gratian's Concordantia discordantium canonum [Concordance of Discordant Canons] (ca. 1140) which helped to establish canon law as a distinct juridical science rather than an aspect of theology. The first systematic ecclesiastical legal treatise to be written in the West, it is part of the twelfth century flowering of Italian legal thought that occurred in Bologna.
  • Consilia: Among the incunabular editions are the Consilia of Johannes and Gaspar Calderinus (Rome: Adam Rot, 1472), and several fifteenth and many sixteenth century editions of the Consilia of the civil law commentators Baldo degli Ubaldi and his teacher, Bartolus of Saxoferrato.
  • A collection of 500 volumes of statuta contains the laws prevailing in Italian city-states until the eighteenth century. Early statuta include those from Bologna (1475), Brescia (1490), Milan (1498), Parma (1494), Venice (1477), and Verona (1475).
  • A collection of maritime customs and ordinances, Capituli et ordinatione di mare e di mercantie (Rome: Ant. de Bladi de Asola, 1519). This body of law was followed in cities along the Mediterranean coast and influenced the development of Anglo-American law.
  • Treatises on the law and theory of war, for example Giovannni da Legnano's work of 1360, De bello, repressaliis et duello (Pavia: Christophorus de Caibus, 1487).
  • Documents related to the legal recodification undertaken in Italy in 1930 and 1940-42.


There are several interesting Italian-related collections in the LC Manuscript Division. Most concern American history and/or U.S. relations with Italy, especially World War II, or genealogy and Italian immigration and emigration. Notable collections include:
  • American Academy in Rome: Among the Charles Follen McKim papers, documents covering the establishment of the American Academy in Rome.
  • Galeazzo Ciano Papers: Working papers relating to the publication of the Ciano diaries, 1939-46.
  • Papers of Filippo Mazzei, Italian physician and merchant and colonial American agent in Europe: Chiefly correspondence with John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Marquis de Lafayette, James Monroe, and Edmund Randolph. The largest group of letters is from Thomas Jefferson and includes the "Mazzei letter," in which Jefferson criticizes Federalist leaders.
  • Tissandier Collection: Includes material on and by early aeronaut Vincenzo Lunardi.
  • Italian captured documents collection, 1925-1945: Includes documents from the Italian Supreme Command.


The collection represents the importance of Italian music in the European traditions of American music. The collections are strongest in nineteenth-century Italian music, but they also include most of the major treatises of the pre-Bach era and holograph manuscripts by nearly every prominent Italian composer. A number of noteworthy items are:
  • Holograph scores by Paganini, Verdi, and Porpora.
  • Copies of holographic music scores by Mucio Clementi (1752-1832), composer.
  • Francis Maria Scala Collection: Italian-American Scala (1819?-1903) was the first musician to be designated Leader of the Marine Band. Scala developed the band to over 30 musicians and made it well known through its public outdoor concerts. The collection consists primarily of music arranged or composed by Scala for band concerts, military formations, and White House functions.
  • Albert Schatz Collection: Early opera librettos and research files. With over 12,000 printed libretti, this is one of the larger -- if not the largest -- collections of libretti in the world. It includes an outstanding selection of Italian (and German) texts, particularly from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, as well as notes, correspondence, playbills, manuscripts for articles, and clippings pertaining to the history of opera in Europe and the United States.
  • Gisella Selden-Goth Collection: Collection of 22 holographs by leading eighteenth-, nineteenth-, and twentieth-century European composers, including Ferruccio Busoni, Nicolo Paganini, Nocola Antonio Porpora, and Giuseppe Verdi.
  • Gertrude Clarke Whittall Foundation Collection: Rare music manuscripts and letters; papers and research materials relating to Nicolo Paganini and Felix Mendelssohn. This collection includes the Maia Bang Hohn collection of Paganini material, which is comprised of correspondence, notebooks, music manuscripts, personal documents as well as clippings, early posters, and prints relating to Paganini. Many items were originally owned by Paganini's family.
Other noteworthy items in the Music Collections include a volume of Giacomo Puccini correspondence, commissioned music by Dalla Piccola, Malapierro, Respighi, and five Stradivari stringed instruments. 

Geography and Map

The collections of the Geography and Map Division are rich in atlases printed in Rome, Bologna and Venice. A noteworthy work is Vincenzo Coronelli's Libro de' globi (In Venetia: Gli Argonauti, 1693 [i.e., not before 1697]), a record of all the globes Coronelli had made. In addition to the Coronelli globes, visually interesting Italian materials include rare late 17th century Venetian globes, Battista Agnese's Portolan Atlas (1544), and the Hauslab-Liechtenstein Collection of maps collected by Austro-Hungarian military geographer Franz Ritter von Hauslab (1798-1883), who was especially interested in topographical maps.   

Motion Pictures and Recorded Sound

This collection is strongest in early Italian features and includes a number of 16mm classics acquired through copyright deposits by American distributors and Janus Films. The Motion Picture and Recorded Sound Division has begun to order some titles of Bellochio and Pasolini on videocassette. Noteworthy collections include: 
  • George Kline Collection: The personal film library and business papers of George Kline, one of the first American distributors of European films. His company acquired exclusive control of the distribution of major Italian motion pictures in the United States and Canada.
  • Italian Collection: Italian films from the 1930s and early 1940s. This collection includes 500 documentary, newsreel, feature, educational, and propaganda films produced in Italy between 1930 and 1943. It also has a collection of reference prints for most of the 275 Istituto Luce newsreels (1938-43), 100 Luce shorts (1930-43), and several of the forty features (1934-40).
  • Monitored Broadcast Collection: Includes 23 entries for Italy between 1941-42, containing speeches by Mussolini and other items from this period.

Prints and Photographs

The strength of Italian graphic arts is reflected in the holdings of the Prints and Photographs Division. Items range from late fifteenth century woodcuts by Ugo da Carpi and Andrea Andreani to current political posters and fine arts. One noteworthy item is Vanoccio Biringuccio's De la Pirotechnia (Venice, 1540) on vellum, which contains illustrations of gunpowder and fireworks. 

Archive of Folksong/American Folklife Center

Projects relating to Italy include the Chicago Ethnic Arts Project Collection (1977), a survey of the ethnic art traditions of Chicago that contains sound recordings, field notes and other written documentation on Italian-Americans and that assesses the impact of the contemporary urban American setting on traditional art forms; Old Ties, New Attachments: Italian-American Folklife in the West (1991-92); and the Works Project Administration Folklore Collection that contains material on Italian-Americans in the 1930s. 

Children's Book Collections

Both the Rare Book and Children's Literature collections have collections of beautifully illustrated Italian children's books, ranging from Pinocchio to Leo Leoni.

Additional Italian resources at the Library of Congress

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  November 26, 2019
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