The Paléographie des classiques latins has been an important Latin paleographical reference work for more than a century. Assembled and edited by Émile Chatelain in 14 fascicles between 1884 and 1900, it consists of more than 200 facsimiles of leaves from medieval manuscripts, with explanatory text. The leaves range in date from the fourth to the fifteenth century, and together illustrate the development of Latin script from the late ancient world to the birth of printing. More than thirty classical authors are represented in the collection.
Émile Chatelain (1851-1933), a professor at l'École des Hautes Études, and a conservateur at the library of the Sorbonne, was also a scholar of Latin paleography. Early in his career he worked at the French School in Rome (l'École française de Rome), and organized the library of the Palazzo Farnese. In his travels, he had access to a number of European libraries from which he made these selections. In 1904 he was awarded the Prix Jean Reynaud by the Académie française for his Paléographie des classiques latins. Chatelain also produced a comparable, though smaller work which focused on the uncial style of writing. His Uncialis scriptura codicum latinorum novis exemplis illustrata (Paris, 1902) is a companion piece to the Paléographie, and the two, though amended as paleographical studies have advanced, are still essential tools for teaching.
The online accessibility of these facsimiles will both bring Chatelain to a wider audience, and help to preserve his original plates, some of which are worn with use, and fragile with age. A number of the plates used in this digital project once belonged to Karl Dziatzko (1842-1903), who was the librarian of the University of Göttingen from 1886 until his death in 1903 (today, the Niedersächsische Staats- und Universitätsbibliothek Göttingen). The University of Illinois Library acquired the Dziatzko Collection in 1905. It contained more than 500 items, and included important works on library science, and paleography, as well as histories of printing, libraries, and the book trade.