Thijs Collection of devotional images and texts is now online

The Special Collections division of the University of Antwerp Library is pleased to announce that ca. 1100 objects from the extensive collection of the historian, collector and scholar Alfons K.L. Thijs can now be consulted via an online catalogue created by the University of Antwerp.


Thijs Collection

Dr. Thijs devoted his entire life to the study of the life, work and devotional practices of everyday people, particularly as is evident in Flanders, Belgium, from the 16th through the 19th centuries. As his parents ran an antiquarian bookshop, he grew up with an appreciation of rare documents of past lives and pursued that interest throughout his life. As he himself remarked, he was motivated in particular by both a personal enjoyment and scholarly satisfaction in discovering “the missing pieces from the great puzzle of the past”.


Following Fons Thijs’s death in 2014, the University of Antwerp Library was able to purchase a special part of his collection, namely images and short texts associated with localized devotions, both in and beyond Flanders. In order to do justice to this exceptional collection of rarely preserved texts and images, as well as Fons Thijs’s own dedication to revealing the past through the study of such objects, the University library decided to digitize the entire collection and make it available online via a flexible cataloguing system through which a broad range of individuals could investigate a variety of questions from diverse fields of interest.



Search options for the Thijs Collection

- Search for specific words or dates:

One can enter dates or individual names (e.g., of artists or publishers), or place names, or names of institutions (such as religious orders) in the open field and press START.

- Search by theme:

One can also start with one of several general, well-represented subdivisions of the collection and view all of the objects associated with that sub-division, e.g., Marian devotions or prints in memoriam.

- General search:

One can also start with “View all” in order to obtain a chronologically arranged list of all the objects in the collection.


In each case

- One can select an individual object by clicking on the blue catalogue number (tg:uact…) next to the thumbnail image of the object in order to view the full catalogue record of that object and any associated links with that entry (all highlighted in blue in the record).

- One can also reduce the number of results via the options highlighted in the gray field to the left of the search results. These options represent the diverse ways in which the collection can be examined. For example, one can select among the following:

  • Specific types of objects (prints or texts or a combination of the two)
  • Function of the object
  • General subject matter of the image
  • Type of support and decoration of the object
  • Print technique
  • Types of inscriptions, including artists signatures and personal annotations by past owners
  • Consult the HELP button for additional suggestions for more complex searches


Personal consultation of the Thijs Collection

The collection can also be consulted in person in the reading room of the Ruusbroecgenootschap where it currently resides on extended loan. This was a logical choice given the remarkably extensive, complimentary collection of devotional images (ca. 40,000) that is already part of that collection. Although these images are not yet available online, one can consult catalogues of important sub-divisions of this collection via online links.


Questions? Please feel free to explore the related websites or send us an email

Special Collections (

Online catalogue in English:

Online catalogue in Dutch: