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Big, bigger, biggest

Does size really matter? From the early modern period onwards, printers experimented with proportions and sizes of books. Whereas some printers found new ways in order to make their books as tiny and practical as possible, others wanted to go bigger and better. Why did they want to print such bulky volumes? And what can their size tell us about function, the aims and the intended public of the book? How does the physical size of a book relate to its contents?

In this digital exhibition, we have made a selection of large format books that are part of the special collections library of the Royal Netherlands Institute in Rome. Scroll down and let yourself be overwhelmed by these giant books.

Discovering the world

“Books let you travel without moving your feet,” says the American author Jhumpa Lahiri. This was already true in the past centuries, when traveling was only for a very few. Some people who didn’t have the opportunity to travel to other places could read about them in books. Maps, illustrations of different cultures and the monuments of Rome showed the people at home what the other side of the world looked like. Take a look at these travel accounts and atlases to see how people perceived the world in the sixteenth and seventeenth century. 

A Custom-made City Atlas

A Monumental Account of the Eternal City 

A Luxurious Travel Journal



Rather than just text, a book is an object itself. Over the centuries, the physical aspect of the book has been considered important. This can be seen in the beautifully illustrated volumes and decorated bindings. It took a lot of effort to publish such a beautiful book, with beautiful, sometimes hand-coloured images, and very often with a special binding. Books like these can be considered as real showpieces, almost artworks, that gave the possessors or the persons to whom these books were dedicated, a luxurious feeling and status. Look at them and you will get stunned by the beauty of these volumes that were produced by real craftsmen.

Amsterdam in its Full Glory

Watching the Parade Go By

Fascist Balloons


Scholarly books

Folio-sized books were often made with the specific purpose to showcase detailed imagery and illustrations. The books that fall within the category of scholarly books, on the other hand, focus more specifically on their learned contents. This gives these volumes a more scholarly character. In this sense, rather than just being objects of beauty, these books were really meant to be studied and used at a desk. The three texts below deal with judicial practices, technological innovation, and classical literature respectively. Immerse yourself in these three very diverse volumes and explore the history of learning.

The Annotated Reforms of the Dutch Pope

A Dutch Engineer in Rome

Experimenting with Ligatures


In the basement of the Royal Netherlands Institute in Rome, over 500 rare books are hidden. During the course Mining Library Treasures, nine students from several universities throughout the Netherlands have explored this special collection. It consists of book treasures from the sixteenth to the twentieth century, covering a wide range of topics, mostly related to Italy and Rome. During one week in November 2018, students from several disciplines (such as History, Art History, Book Studies and Classical Studies) had the honour to discover this collection and curate a digital exhibition. The theme of this exhibition is volumes with a folio format. This is why the physical aspect of the books has been studied in relation to their contents.

As part of the project, the group visited several libraries in Rome, such as the Biblioteca Nazionale CentraleBiblioteca Casanatense and the Biblioteca Angelica. During a day trip outside of Rome, they also paid a visit to the Abbey of Montecassino and the Monastery of Grottaferrata. Lastly, they had a practical workshop in making marbled paper and a book restoration presentation in the L’Istituto centrale di patologia del libro in Rome.

The project group at Biblioteca Angelica