Exhibit of the Month
A special highlight of our anniversary year: In our jubilee exhibition » A Treasure Trove of Knowledge we will present the library’s most fascinating holdings.
Gospel book by Johannes von Troppau
The origins of the imperial court library, the predecessor of today’s Austrian National Library, can be traced back to medieval Europe. In 1368, Johannes von Troppau, the canon of Brno, completed an elaborately decorated book for the Habsburg Duke Albrecht III. It is entirely written in gold letters and adorned with miniatures and fully illuminated pages. The first important work commissioned by an Austrian duke, this object was the starting point of the Habsburg family’s book collection and is thus regarded as the Austrian National Library’s foundation codex.
Papyrus Document on the Trade with India
Egypt, 2nd century AD
At the time of the Roman Empire, a brisk trade flourished between the Mediterranean countries and India. During antiquity, precious textiles, spices, and ivory were imported from Muziris on the West Indian coast. A major part of the merchandise was transported by sea. The Egyptian ports on the Red Sea were popular starting points for the dangerous voyages to India. The present papyrus document from the second century AD is the only hitherto known text documenting these mercantile expeditions to India. A unique fragment, it provides information about the modalities of maritime trade in those days.
Mandrakes Marion und Thrudacias
The present pair of mandrakes called Marion and Thrudacias represents a special curiosity amidst the Austrian National Library’s written documents. Once preserved in Rudolf’s II chamber of curiosities, these roots, clad in black velvet coats and said to have mysterious powers, entered the court library by ways that have only been reconstructed insufficiently to date. According to contemporary accounts, the roots had to be bathed in wine for their magic to unfold. If one failed to do so, they ostensibly started moaning like little children. The traditional bath in wine continued to be performed until the early twentieth century.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, 1791
Hardly another work in the history of music is associated with so many secrets and legends like Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Requiem, his last composition, which he left behind unfinished. The original autograph of this composition numbers among the Austrian National Library’s most valuable and prestigious objects. The Requiem owes its existence to the initiative of Count Franz Walsegg-Stuppach, who commissioned the work from Mozart via an agent. Mozart failed to complete his work on the Requiem, which was interrupted by his compositions of the Magic Flute and Titus in 1791. Finished by Mozart’s student Franz Xaver Süßmayr, the Requiem was first performed in December 1793 in the church of Neukloster Monastery in Wiener Neustadt.
The Court's Botanical Painter
Matthias Schmutzer, watercolours from 1794 to 1824
For a lasting documentation of the plant treasures kept in his greenhouses and gardens, Emperor Franz I established the position of botanical court painter, whom he entrusted with capturing the imperial parks’ flora and fauna in sizeable watercolours. Between 1794 and 1824, the painter Matthias Schmutzer documented the imperial gardens’ extraordinary exotic splendour in 1,300 impressive, colourful pictures. In terms of science, history, and aestheticism, these detailed watercolours of superior quality constitute unique gems from the early nineteenth century that are now preserved in the Austrian National Library.
Mainz, c. 1454
Comprising 1,286 pages, the Gutenberg Bible is the most impressive document of both the invention of printing with movable letters from the Late Middle Ages – an event of pre-eminent importance for Occidental culture – and the method’s perfect implementation in terms of craftsmanship. After preparations of several years, Johannes Gutenberg finished printing the Bible in Mainz around 1454/55. Today we assume that some 180 copies were produced at the time, 48 of which have survived around the globe – only two of them in their entirety. The example owned by the Austrian National Library consists of two volumes and was elaborately decorated by two illuminators in Vienna around 1460. Coming from the Dominican Convent of Maria Steinach, the present Bible entered the imperial court library in 1783.
Ptolemy, Martin Waldseemüller, Strasbourg, 1513
The map Generale Ptholomei, showing those parts of the terrestrial surface known in antiquity, is contained in the work Geographia by Claudius Ptolemy (c. AD 100–180) in an edition released by the famous cosmographer Martin Waldseemüller (c. 1472/75–1520) in 1513 as one of the most impressive examples of Ptolemaic geography. Containing a theory of projection, coordinate tables, and, in addition to traditional maps based on the knowledge of antiquity, twenty contemporary representations, this work documents the transition from ancient to modern geography. The latter is visualised in the form of a second world map, which already includes the New World, i.e. parts of the Caribbean and of the South-American continent.
The Bastions of Vienna
Photograph/salt print, 1858
This large salt print produced by the Imperial Stationary Office shows Old Vienna when it still had its town gates, such as the Rotenturmtor (‘Red Tower Gate’) on today’s Rotenturmstraße near Schwedenplatz. The photograph was taken shortly before Vienna’s fortifications were demolished in March 1858. This was when the most ambitious building project in Viennese history began with the removal of the bastions and the construction of the Vienna Ringstraße.
Work on the demolition of the town walls lasted up to eighteen hours a day and was frequently carried out by torchlight until past midnight. As early as 1 May 1858, the first section of the Ringstraße, so-called Franz-Josefs-Kai (‘Francis Joseph Embankment’), was opened by the emperor as the initiator of this urban development project in a festive ceremony.
Bohemia lies by the Sea
Ingeborg Bachmann, poem typescript, 1964
This late poem by Ingeborg Bachmann is one of her most famous ones and has frequently been said to be also her most beautiful work of poetry. It was written on a journey to Prague in January 1964, at a time when she was making her way back to life and literature after her separation from Max Frisch and a nervous breakdown.
Ingeborg Bachmann went over Bohemia Lies by the Sea several times. The stages of the text, made visible by the typescript with its handwritten corrections, perfectly visualise the developmental process of the poem, which contains numerous intertextual references, such as to Shakespeare. It forms part of a cycle of seven poems that is still largely unknown and was written by Bachmann during her journey.
Book of Antidotes
Mosul (?), 1220–1240
According to today’s state of knowledge, this Arabic manuscript was produced in Mosul in the second quarter of the thirteenth century. The precious object is one of the most important documents of Islamic book illumination and offers various instructions for the preparation of so-called theriaca, a universal remedy against animal poison, particularly snakebite, used in antiquity. The recipes are presented in the form of diagrams and calligraphy, complemented by opulent colour illustrations. Coloured miniatures render additional scenes from the history of theriaca and its discoverers. The work is introduced with a unique dedicatory image reflecting contemporary court life.
Antique roadmap, c. 1200
The Tabula Peutingeriana, named after its owner Konrad Peutinger, is the medieval copy of an antique roadmap. It was made around 1200 and reflects the original via several in-between stages. This ‘world map’, originally conceived as an approximately seven-metre-long scroll, presents the individual landmasses, in which prominent rivers, lakes, and mountain ranges have been inscribed. The names of places and elaborately decorated town vignettes, for example for Rome, are linked by a network of routes into which the respective distances have been entered. Via various intermediary owners, the map came into the possession of Prince Eugene of Savoy, whose collection was fused with that of the court library in 1738. Today the map is part of UNESCO’s Memory of the World Register for documentary heritage.
The Emperor’s Show Case Series
Jakob Alt and Rudolf von Alt, c. 1833–1845
Like his father, Emperor Franz I, Crown Prince Ferdinand has his own art collection, which he kept in his private apartments. It comprised landscape depictions, old views, portraits, and genre scenes by outstanding Austrian artists. Around 1833 he commissioned the painter Jakob Alt with the production of landscape watercolours for a show case series. Most of these watercolours entered the Albertina’s graphic art collection in 1921. Twenty-four drawings are preserved in the Austrian National Library’s fideicommissum library.