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Faculty of Arts receives thousands of books from an art historian

Hans Belting, a German art historian, donated his personal library to the Department of the History of Art.

Hans Belting during the opening ceremony of the library that bears his name.

The Department of the History of Art at the Faculty of Arts, Masaryk University, opened the new Hans Belting Library on 19 April. The new library, named after the German art historian of worldwide renown, was made possible thanks to a donation from Hans Belting himself, who sent his collection focusing on medieval and Byzantine art to Brno. The Faculty of Arts thus became one of the best-equipped places in Europe for the study of the medieval Mediterranean.

Thousands of books collected by the 80-year-old Belting and his ex-wife over the major part of their lives will now be made available for students and researchers in the library. The art historian is an acclaimed expert – last year he was awarded the international Balzan Prize award that recognizes important figures in the humanities, life sciences and culture. Ivan Foletti from the Department of the History of Art explains what acquiring such a large number of books means for him and his colleagues: “We feel honoured by this donation. To a large extent, it will allow us to close the gap formed by the isolation policy of the former Communist regime, which resulted in highly selective purchases of books.”

Hans Belting states that he had several reasons for sending his books to Brno: “First, there is my friendship with Ivan; then there is the enthusiasm of the local students, whom I met in December 2014 during my first visit; and finally it is the fact that in my opinion, Brno is a place where dialogue between West and East takes place,” says the man whose home collection of books has become significantly smaller. “It is strange to see all these books that I spent years thumbing through suddenly taking off and starting a new life. And what am I going to do now? I could finally retire, but that isn’t going to happen. I will just switch to other topics,” says Belting with a smile as he stands by the new library shelves.

The library can be found in the K building of the Faculty of Arts. Only two months ago, the rooms were empty and formerly there used to be a gym, but now there is a library which can hold approximately 16,000 books. It is currently about half full and contains books donated by Belting as well as books that had already been owned by the department. As Foletti explains, the scholars have decided to place all materials relating to the Middle Ages together so that they are easily available for students and researchers as well as anyone simply interested in the history of art.

The shelves will certainly not remain half-empty for long. Negotiations currently under way mean that Brno could soon receive publication collections from three other people. While Foletti did not want to give names, he did mention that if all three negotiations went well for the faculty, the library, which only opened several days ago, would not be big enough to contain all the new books.