This collection currently consists of 239 codices with illuminations, dating from the 12th to the 19th centuries. They come from a number of sources, but primarily the libraries of the convents that were abolished in 1834, the library which the Bishop of Beja and Archbishop of Évora, Dom Fr. Manuel do Cenáculo, donated in 1797, and the library of Francisco de Melo Manuel (Cabrinha), which was acquired from him in 1852. More recent acquisitions have also added further works to this collection.
The collection covers a very diverse range of topics: liturgical works, books of hours, books on theology and patristics, together with the texts of personal commitments to religious orders, the rules of religious orders, and, albeit less numerous, works on History, a set of 13 Manueline charters, and a number of literary and legal works.
Items of particular interest include: the famous Cervera Bible, a 13th century Hebrew Bible, which is a precious example of high quality book-making and decoration and was illuminated by Joseph Asarfati between 1299 and 1300; the Livro de Horas da Rainha D. Leonor, possibly illuminated by Willem Vrelant in around 1470; the Atlas by Fernão Vaz Dourado, which dates from c. 1576 and contains 17 illuminated maps; and the Descrição da fortaleza de Sofala e das mais da Índia...., by António Mariz Carneiro, which is dated 1639 and includes 48 plans in watercolours.
♦ CORREIA, Francisco - Inventário da Colecção dos Manuscritos Iluminados da Biblioteca Nacional.
Lisboa: [Ministério da Educação e Cultura], 1986.
♦ FERREIRA, Teresa A. S. Duarte - "Guia das Colecções de Manuscritos da Divisão dos Reservados".
Revista da Biblioteca Nacional, Lisboa, S. 2, 3 (1) 1988, p. 95-129.
♦ Inventário dos Códices Iluminados Até 1500. Lisboa: Secretaria de Estado da Cultura, 1994.