Speech by Aleksandra Ceferin, President, Institute for Slovenian Studies of Victoria, on the occasion of the presentation and gifting of the Iconotheca Valvasoriana Collection to the State Library of Victoria, and the launch of the website Valvasor.org and the digital presentation J.W. Valvasor, on 27th September 2010 in Melbourne.
Dr. Boštjan Žekš, Peter Batchelor, The Honorable John Cain, Dr. Zvone Žigon, Anne-Marie Schwirtlich, distinguished guests!
Janez Vajkard Valvasor was an exceptional man of his time. This is his Slovenian name. In German, the official language of the Habsburg Empire and most of Central Europe in the 17th century, his name was Baron Johann Weichard Freiherr von Valvasor. German was the language of officialdom in Central Europe of the time, country people spoke their own languages, and scholars wrote in Latin. Accordingly, Valvasor’s Latin name was Ioannes Vaikardus Valvasor. Similarly there were three names for places: Kranjska/Crain/Carniola or Trst/Triest/Tergeste. 17th century Europe was multilingual and multicultural – just like today.
Slovenes achieved literacy in the 16th century, initiated by the protestant reformation. They were among the first 12 nations of Europe to have the bible translated into their language. The reformation heralded Slovenian national awakening, which was however soon put on hold by a counter-reformation backlash. In 1599 the last of the Protestants – the nobility, who would not recant, were exiled from Slovenian lands.
By 1641, the year of Valvasor’s birth, the bitter religious conflict was long past. Notwithstanding the turmoil of the expansionist tendencies of the Ottoman Empire towards Central Europe, it was a century, conducive to pursuit of learning and research. Valvasor participated in three major armed conflicts and distinguished himself as commanding officer, but apart from these intervals, devoted 14 years of his life to travel throughout Europe and parts of Africa, intent on investigation and discovery. From these journeys he brought detailed records of his observations and a collection of 1500 books, over 8,000 graphic prints and drawings, minerals, astronomical and mathematical devices and other rarities. Valvasor also returned home with the view that his own country and his people were exceptional. The idea of the great book was born – The Glory of the Duchy of Carniola / Die Ehre des Hertzogthums Crain / Slava vojvodine Kranjske. He intended it, as he said later in the introduction, to be a contribution to knowledge and for “our” descendants.
In undertaking a history of Slovenian lands and people, Valvasor continued the national awakening launched by the protestant movement, and laid the foundation for the re-emerging Slovenian identity of the 18th century. A precursor and pioneer of enlightenment in Slovenian, and wider European context, he is said to have reached “the highest peak of creative cultural identity on European soil until the national revival of the Enlightenment in the 18th century”.
The Glory of the Duchy of Carniola is a monumental and unique work, representing Valvasor’s main claim to fame and his greatest achievement. Even after 300 years, it measures up to most standards of similar high quality literature as well as serious scientific work, and is still considered to be the most important and most often cited work in several areas.
An encyclopedic work of 3,532 pages, it was outstanding in its own time, admired for its meticulous investigation, observation and vivid descriptions, as well as its scope, distinguished also for its engravings and copperplates. It is entirely due to Valvasor, that we know what cities and towns, castles and monasteries looked like in the 17th Century and how the people of the region went about their daily lives.
In his scientific method Valvasor was ahead of his time. His greatest achievement is that he does not only see the great events, the castles and the churches but he lovingly and with great interest describes the lives and customs of the common people, the rich tapestry of life that makes the land what it is. The past and the present, the natural wonders, the common and uncommon phenomena of life and nature, the beliefs, superstitions and archival records of events.
Valvasor received international recognition during his lifetime. In 1687 he was elected Fellow of the Royal Society of London for his scientific description of the intermittent Lake Cerknica and his innovative procedure of casting metal objects, that was used on the production of the Mary’s statue, Both were published in Philosophical Transactions, and in Acta Eruditorum, the two most important scientific magazines of the time.
Valvasor died impoverished in 1693, having sold his castles and personal library collection, and leaving a legacy of inestimable value.
The Glory of the Duchy of Carniola is a rare gift to posterity – one of the greatest treasures of Slovenian culture. It also transcends, to this day, all local and national boundaries, as it describes a large segment of common European history, holding a firm place in Slovenian, Croatian, Austrian, German, Hungarian, and Italian literary and cultural history. It also remains a rich source of information and incentives for many literary men.
Valvasor’s collection of graphic prints and drawings is equally a bequest of exceptional value – an extraordinary record of European graphic art of the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries. With the facsimile publication named Iconotheca Valvasoriana, Slovenia has ensured that this incomparable legacy is placed within the reach of the international public – with scholarly commentaries in three languages – as a treasure of the common European cultural space.
Today we gratefully herald its arrival – or shall we say, his footprint – here in Melbourne. Valvasor, the journeyman, would be pleased.
We are celebrating today the reach of this illustrious European’s legacy beyond its European space and origin, also by launching the website Valvasor.org and a multimedia presentation, J.W. Valvasor – Magnum opus of Slovenian polymath. You will have an opportunity to view both this evening, and in the following weeks.