Matthias, one of the most powerful rulers of the age, started to collect the books from about 1460. At the king's death, the library consisted of about 3,000 codices or "Corvinae" which included 4,000-5,000 works, many of classical Greek and Latin authors. It represented the literary production and reflected the state of knowledge and arts of the Renaissance and included philosophy, theology, history, law, literature, geography, natural sciences, medicine, architecture, etc. The Turkish invasion of much of Hungary in the 16th century destroyed the codices. Only about 650 Corvinae survived, now in several libraries in Hungary and Europe.
North of the Alps, Matthias' library was the largest in Europe, and in its contents it was only second to the Vatican Library in Europe according to contemporary accounts. It was the greatest collection of science in its time. 1489, Bartolomeo della Fonte of Florence wrote that Lorenzo de Medici founded his own Greek-Latin library encouraged by the example of the Hungarian king.
Near two thirds of the surviving volumes had not been printed before the king's death. Some of them contained the sole copy of the works in them, like the book of Constantine Porphyrogennetos on the habits in the court of the Byzantine emperor, or the church history of Nikephoros Kallistos. We also know about Corvinae, with which the only copy of ancient books perished, including the full works of Hypereides, writings by Flavius Cresconius Corippus, Cuspinianus and Procopius.
Hungary's National Széchényi Library is working on projects to restore the Corvina library in a digital form.
- Matthew Landrus, Leonardo Da Vinci's Giant Crossbow, (Springer Verlag, 2010), 49.
- Alfred Burns, The Power of the Written Word: The Role of Literacy in the History of Western Civilization, (Peter Lang, 1989), 228.
- "The Bibliotheca Corviniana Collection". UNESCO Memory of the World Programme. 2009-08-12. Retrieved 2009-12-15.
- Csapodi, Csaba & Csapodiné Gárdonyi, Klára: Bibliotheca Corviniana (Budapest, 1976.)