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Early Printed Books

A guide to help you locate and use books printed in the major languages of Western Europe between 1450 and 1700

Italy & the Vatican

Title page of Giorgio Vasari's Lives of the Artists, 1567

This page focuses on the Italian language, and covers some major collections in the Italian Peninsula.

Searching for Texts

The Central Institute for the Union Catalog of Italian Libraries and Bibliographic Information has been working to create unified catalogs of Italian libraries, but the rare books collections may not always be integrated into collective catalogs like these. Similarly, WorldCat may or may not list all of the older materials held in various libraries, but it may provide a helpful first indication of where your materials may be found. Many individual libraries still maintain their own catalogs, which are the most reliable source of information about their holdings.

If you're not sure what you're looking for, perusing printed bibliographies may be a good place to start. More information on searching for texts can be found on the home page of this guide.


Searching online catalogs is the fastest way to find what you're looking for if you already know what it is. If you want to explore, browsing bibliographies may be the way to go. Many paper bibliographies are available under Z call numbers, and in facsimile editions via Google Books and HathiTrust. More information on bibliographies can be found on the home page of this guide.

Catalogs of Italian printed books are generally divided by century: incunabula will be cataloged separately from sixteenth-century printed books or cinquecentine. Books from the seventeenth through nineteenth centuries are generally not separated in Italian catalogs and inventories.  

National Libraries

As part of Italy's unification process in the late nineteenth century, the main libraries of each region were consolidated into a network on national libraries. Today, there are two central national libraries, in Florence and Rome, and six further national libraries in different regions. The ones with the largest collections of early printed books are listed here.

When requesting access to old and rare materials, most institutions will require that you apply for some sort of researcher's card and may require to see some evidence of why you need to use the materials. It is a good idea to anticipate this, and familiarize yourself with the requirements at the libraries you intend to visit before you travel. It is also advisable to bring an original letter from your department chair or dissertation advisor attesting to your research needs. 

More information on visiting libraries and archives can be found on the home page of this guide.

Facade of the Biblioteca Marciana in Venice

The Biblioteca Marciana in Venice

Other Collections

Italy's libraries have a rich and long history. Some of the oldest libraries have become part of the national library system, such as the Marciana in Venice. Others remain private institutions with rich collections of early printed books. This list includes a few of the oldest private libraries, and links to information about finding others.

For libraries in North America with collections of early printed books, please see the Collections in North America page of this guide.

Facade of the Vallicelliana Library in Rome

 The Biblioteca Vallicelliana in Rome

Early Modern Italian Orthography

Italian spelling was unstable in the early centuries of printing, with authors and printers wavering between etymological spellings that showed the Latin roots of words, or modernized spellings that more closely reflected punctuation. Be sure to keep this in mind as you are searching, and try variant spellings of titles, authors, and keywords. More information is available in the orthography section of the home page of this guide.

Learn more about Italian orthography