Stirling Maxwell Collection

A collection of some 2,000 volumes forming part of the library of Sir William Stirling Maxwell (1818-1878), collector of books, paintings, engravings, silver and ceramics, and author of several scholarly works including Annals of the artists of Spain (1848) and An essay towards a collection of books relating to proverbs, emblems, apophthegms, epitaphs and ana (1860).


Emblem literature


The 2,000 volumes include Sir William’s unrivalled collection of emblem and device literature, which he assembled over a period of forty years. His emblem books range in date from the first edition of Alciati’s Emblems (1531) to the 19th century, and in space over Italy, France, Germany, Austria, Spain, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Russia and England. They are supported by a strong collection of books on allied subjects: fête books and ceremonial albums, medal books and books of allegorical figures.

With such a major research collection in its care, the Library purchases additional emblem and fête literature when possible. Also included in the collection are a number of early works on architecture - Vitruvius, Alberti, Androuet du Cerceau, Delorme - as well as examples of the work of some of the foremost artists and engravers, e.g. Van Dyck’s Icones (c.1660), Canaletto’s Urbis Venetiarum prospectus (1742), Goya’s Los caprichos (1799), and Blake’s Illustrations of the Book of Job (1825).


Other material


The Stirling Maxwell Collection was bequeathed to the University of Glasgow Library in 1956 under the terms of the will of Sir John Stirling Maxwell (1866-1956), Sir William’s son; it was received by the Library in 1958. Included in the bequest was a group of some 300 18th century pamphlets, mainly of Scottish interest. Not forming part of the bequest, however, was a substantial number of valuable books - mainly volumes on the arts of design and collections of proverbs and ana; these were sold at Christie’s, 20-23 May and 19 November, 1958. A further part of Sir William’s library - for a time retained by the family - was eventually given to the Corporation of Glasgow and is now administered by the Mitchell Library.

See also the University of Glasgow's Centre for Emblem Studies website to find out more about the flourishing research in emblems ongoing at Glasgow, and their Emblem Website with information on digitisation projects.

Read a more in depth   (opens PDF document).

See also: Hilary Macartney: (2018) A university set on a hill overlooking one of the richest cities: Stirling Maxwell, Spanish Culture, and the University of Glasgow Bulletin of Spanish Studies [see Enlighten open access record for this article]
This article considers Sir William Stirling Maxwell's important role in Higher Education reform, charting his association with several universities in Scotland, and particularly with Glasgow University, whose fundraising campaign he assisted to bring about its new campus in Glasgow's West-End; the article also examines his legacy to the University of Glasgow, focusing on key examples of Spanish books in the Stirling Maxwell Collection, to show their significance for new approaches within interdisciplinary studies concerned with emblems, festivals, illustrations, book-collecting and word-image relations


Digitised Emblem Books


  • French Emblems at Glasgow website for links to 27 digitised 16th century French emblem books (25 of which are from the Stirling Maxwell Collection) in both transcribed and facsimile versions, with introduction and extensive search functionality.
  • Alciato at Glasgow website for links to 22 editions of the emblems of Andrea Alciato (1492-1550), dating from 1531 to 1621, in the original Latin, and in French, German, Italian, and Spanish versions (Nb. four of the Alciato editions also feature on the French Emblems at Glasgow site, above).
  • The Study and Digitisation of Italian Emblem Books for links to 7 digitised 16th century Italian emblem books.


How to find material in the Stirling Maxwell Collection


  • Browse through a list of printed books in the collection (Sp Coll S.M.); or, search for a specific item using the rare books search.
  • Browse through a list of manuscript items in the collection (select "List collection content"); or, search for a specific item using the manuscripts search
  • For examples of images from a selection of books in the collection see the emblems course materials page .
  • Hester M. Black, A short title catalogue of the emblem books and related works in the Stirling Maxwell Collection of Glasgow University Library (1499-1917), edited and revised by David Weston (Aldershot, 1988).
  • Hester M. Black, "The Stirling Maxwell Collection of Emblem books in Glasgow University Library", The Bibliotheck, 8 (1977), pp. 156-167.
  • A choice of emblemes: an exhibition of books from the Stirling Maxwell Collection (Glasgow, 1985). Exhibition catalogue available for consultation in the Special Collections reading room.
  • Emblem books: an exhibition of books and manuscripts (Glasgow, 1965). Exhibition catalogue available for consultation in the Special Collections reading room.
  • Emblems and entrances: an exhibition of woodcut, engraved and etched title pages of English books, 1500-1700 (Glasgow, 1970). Exhibition catalogue available for consultation in the Special Collections reading room.
  • Houses and gardens: an exhibition of early books on architecture and gardening (Glasgow, 1978). Exhibition catalogue available for consultation in the Special Collections reading room.
  • Mario Praz, Studies in 17th-century imagery, 2nd ed. (Rome 1964). In part 2 of that work ‘A bibliography of emblem books’, the unrevised location symbols NP and NPK denote books which formed part of the Stirling Maxwell bequest to the University of Glasgow Library.
  • Splendours and miseries: an exhibition of festival books and commemorative albums (Glasgow, 1967). Exhibition catalogue available for consultation in the Special Collections reading room.
  • Nigel Thorp The glory of the page: medieval and renaissance illuminated manuscripts from Glasgow University Library (London, 1987). Exhibition catalogue.
  •  (Glasgow, 2011)
  • David J. Weston Sir William Stirling Maxwell and the European emblem: an exhibition of books and manuscripts mounted to coincide with the international conference "The European Emblem" held in Glasgow, 11-14 August 1987 (Glasgow, 1987).

See also the following 'book of the month' articles that feature items from the Stirling Maxwell Collection:

  • Johann Saubert Emblemat Dukhovnyi  Russia: 1743 (Book of the month: November 2006)
  • Francisco de Goya y Lucientes Los Caprichos Madrid:1799 (Book of the month: August 2006)
  • Otto van Veen Amorum Emblemata Antwerp: 1608 (Book of the month: February 2001)
  • Visions de Pétrarque manuscript: c. 1534 (Book of the month: November 1999)
  • Metamorphoses (illustrated by Virgil Solis) Frankfurt 1569 (Book of the month: September 1999)