Historical views and landscapes of Europe from the Austrian National Library

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Having a glimpse at celebrated monuments and spending time in illustrious cities has always exerted a strong fascination for the human mind. However, seeing those places is one thing, preserving the impressions of them quite another. Travellers wrote journals, published travel accounts and prepared sketches and drawings.

This is where this collection comes in. It comprises numerous topographical recordings, images of cities, villages, buildings, architecture, landscapes and pictures of natural events that where part of the Habsburg’s private library (the so called “Fideikommiß”-Vues).

Image 1 Viennae Austriae - Wienn in Österreich, Österreichische Nationalbibliothek dated 1725 Public Domain

The corpus encompasses 3,979 images, most of which (3,688) are marked as Public Domain. Geographically, the emphasis lies on territories under the sway of the Habsburgs, but drawings originating from other European countries can be found as well. Lisbon, Moscow, Stockholm, Naples and of course London and Paris are part of the collection, thus providing a rich coverage in geographical terms.

Also the time range is impressive. Some of the items date from as early as the beginning of the 18th century, while some were created in the 1890s.

Image 2 Die Stadt Petsch in der Entfernung, Österreichische Nationalbibliothek Public Domain

Thus, the collection is rich both in terms of geographical and temporal coverage. However. this means also that a certain degree of inaccuracy might diminish its potential from a research perspective. For example, about 150 photographs are included into the set, dating from the late 19th century. These cover such minute details as Viennese street scenes, but also such exotic destinations as the Great Wall of China. Researchers interested in earlier periods will not be able to utilize them for their own research, whereas researchers interested in the history of photography will not expect photographs, and thus omit it this set.

Image 3 Vue du Mont-Blanc, des Aiguilles du Midi, des Blaitieres, du Géant, du Glacier Du Tacul, prise du Sommet du Rocher du Couvercle, Österreichische Nationalbibliothek, Public Domain

While having a collection containing roughly 4,000 images is certainly a great starting point for any researcher, it is unfortunately a bit cumbersome to “dig deeper”. If a specific city or region constitutes the research focus, the easiest way would be keyword search. However, the titles of the images, which often contain the geographic location, are in different languages (German, English, French, Italian and Hungarian).

As the spelling of place names can vary amongst different languages, this needs to be taken into account. Although some of the items are geo-tagged, the reference is not always to the depicted place. Thus a search for “Vienna” returns 290 hits but only a fraction contains views related to this city, since some of the tags actually refer to the place where creator lived or where it was published.

The collection is a great starting point for researchers interested in the history of travel and tourism due to its broad geographic coverage. Often destinations that formed an integral part of the Grand Tour are covered as well as less attractive sites within, for example the Habsburg Empire. Also art historians might be interested in this collection, since, due to the coverage of about 200 years, changes over time can be researched.