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Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Austrian National Library

The Austrian National Library.

The Austrian National Library, or Österreichische Nationalbibliothek (ÖNB), was the court library of the House of Habsburg and is one of the world's major libraries.  It now houses about three million books, but also has remarkable collections of maps, globes, prints, portraits, and music to name some, not to mention works in and on Esperanto and other constructed languages.

A view of the Prunksaal.

Albert III, Duke of Austria and member of the House of Habsburg, was a scholar who supported the arts and science.  In the late 1300s he put all the books in Viennese vaults into a library.  He also organized a translation project, so that all important Latin works could also be read in German.  He supported the University of Vienna, and founded a royal workshop for illustrating manuscripts.

Albert II, Duke of Austria.  Also known as Herzog Albrecht III
mit dem Copfe (Albert with the Pigtail).  He reigned 1386 -1395.

Frederick III, Holy Roman Emperor and also of the House of Habsburg, made it a goal to get as many of the Habsburg treasures as possible, including books, to Vienna.  Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I gained possession of important books from France through his first marriage, and brought these to Vienna.  With his second marriage, he acquired books from Italian workshops.

Friedrich III by Hans Burgkmair the Elder, 1468.

All of these books were kept at the Court Library, which was partially in Vienna and partially in Innsbruck.  After Maximilian I died, the books went to Innsbruck castle.  The Biblioteca Regia, developed in the 16th century, collected scientific works, and was in Vienna.  Besides books, that library also had collections of globes and atlases. The collections increased when personal libraries of scholars were donated.  This was added to the Imperial Library.

Kaiser Maximilian I by Albrecht Dürer, 1519.

In 1575, Hugo Blotius was appointed the first librarian of the Imperial Library.  He did an inventory, which had grown to approximately 9,000 books.  New works were added and new libraries were incorporated.  In 1624, by order of Ferdinand II, obligation copies were to be made to the Library, and more new purchases were made.  The library of Philip Eduard Fugger was added, which contained one of the first collections of newspapers, about 17,000 sheets.  The Fuggers were bankers to many Catholic monarchies, especially the Habsburgs, in the 15th and 16th centuries.  Philip Eduard Fugger started newletters, mainly for himself, composed of reports from various associates all over along with local and other news.  These handwritten papers are known as the Fuggerzeitungen.

A colored copper plate from Fuggerorum et
Fuggerarum imagines, 

In 1722, Emperor Karl VI ordered the construction of a permanent building for the Imperial Library in Hofburg Palace in Vienna, which still serves as the official residence of the President of Austria.  It was housed in the current Prunksaal, built particularly to house the court library, in 1721-1723.  A valuable addition was made at this time.  It was the book collection of Prince Eugene of Savoy, 15,000 volumes.  Another important addition was a papyrus collection, acquired by an antiquities dealer and donated to the library.

Ceiling painting in the Prunksaal.

In 1920, the Hofburg library, as it was then called, was renamed the Austrian National Library.  In 1966, large parts of the collection were moved to the building on Heidenplatz ("Heroes' Square"), the outer plaza of the Hofburg.

Heidenplatz with a statue of Archduke Charles of Austria.  The ÖNB can
be seen at the rear to the left of the statue.

One of the tasks of the ÖNB is the collection and archiving of all publications appearing in Austria, including electronic media.  It also collects all works of Austrian authors from abroad, and all works which reflect Austrians or Austrian culture.  The ÖNB has more than seven million objects, of which about three million are printed.

A fragment of the Codes Vindobonensis B 11093.

The Esperanto Museum is one of the interesting collections of the ÖNB.  Founded in 1927 by Hugo Steiner, it covers the history of Esperanto and the relationship of man to language.  There is an automat that gives one a grasp of the grammar of Esperanto through a Pacman game, and a video course by the BBC so one can hear how it sounds.  The interactive media stations not only share knowledge of Esperanto, but other planned languages as well, from the Lingua Ignota of Hildegard of Bingen to Klingon.  They have documents from roughly 500 planned languages, and are endeavoring to digitize their holdings so that much of it will be available on the internet.

Image courtesy of the ÖNB.

The Department of Papyri has objects from Egypt covering 3,000 years, and includes objects on parchment, paper, ostraca, leather, wood, wax tablets, stone, bones, metal, and textiles.  Besides hieroglyphs and hieratic, some of the languages are demotic, Coptic, Greek, Latin, Hebrew, Syriac, Aramaic, and Arabic.  The research department has over 15,000 volumes covering many areas from the 3rd century BCE to the 10th century CE.  More volumes are being added in the interest of providing background information to the objects in the collection. In 2001, it was added to UNESCO's Memory of the World Programme Register, an international initiative with the mission to preserve for posterity valuable collections and archival holdings.

Image courtesy of the ÖNB.

The Map Departments has about 290,000 maps and 650 globes, as well as 81,000 volumes of atlases and technical literature.  The collection was begun in the 16th century, although the department was founded in 1906.  Since 1953, the Map Department has included the Globe Museum - the only one in the world - the main emphasis of which is on terrestrial and celestial globes made before 1850.  There is a 50-volume set of more than 2,400 maps, prints, and drawings known as the Atlas Blaeu-Van der Hem from the 17th century.  It was inscribed on UNESCO's Memory of the World Programme Register in 2003.

Terrestrial globe, left, from 1541.  Celestial globe, right, from 1551.  Both
attributed to Gerard Mercator.  Image courtesy of the ÖNB.

With the purchase of Albert Fugger's library in 1655, many valuable musical items became part of the library's holdings.  The Department of Music is one of the largest musical archives in the world.  It includes autographs, texts of vocal works, recordings, and the estates of important Austrian composers.  It is located in the Palais Mollard.

Image courtesy of the ÖNB.

The Vienna Dioscurides is an early 6th century illustrated manuscript of De Materia Medica by Dioscorides in Greek.  A rare example of a late antique scientific text, the vellum folios contain more than 400 pictures of flora and fauna. It was made circa 515 for the Byzantine princess Juliana Anicia.  Listed in UNESCO's Memory of the World Programme Register in 1997, it is part of the Manuscripts and Rare Books collection of the ÖNB.  The collection includes items from almost every literate culture in the world, dating from the 4th century.

A page from the De Materia Medica.

There are so many things in this library, that I'm sure one could spend years reviewing and researching them all.  I applaud their willingness to share and their efforts to digitize their items so internet access is possible.  Thanks to the collectors and conservators who made this possible for all of us to use and enjoy.

Unless otherwise noted, images courtesy of Wikipedia.
Check out the website for more information, as
well as for catalogs and databases.

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