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The Inventory of Rudolf's Museum (Kunstkammer)


Rudolf's Kunstkammer was like a private museum, reputed to include strange and wondrous items. The present page discusses an inventory of this museum, that was lost, but was rediscovered after the second world war by Gustav Wilhelm, the former director of the art collections of the Fürst of Liechtenstein (1).

He prepared a transcription in 1947, and gave it to Erwin Neumann in 1956 for publication. The latter managed to identify a large number of objects, but died before the work could be completed. It was finally published in 1976 (2).

With respect to the Voynich MS, Rudolf's collection of books deserves special interest. The inventory includes a number of books, but it clearly does not represent his complete library. This question is addressed in some detail in Richeterová (2016) (3), which is summarised here.

The manuscript

The manuscript measures 19,5 x 34 cm and has 415 paper pages. The binding is parchment over cardboard. On the inside cover is written: Ex libris Liechtensteinianis The title of the MS is: Von Anno 1607. Verzaichnus, was in der Röm:Kay:May:Kunstkammer gefunden worden. (From 1607, inventory of what has been found in his majesty the Roman Emperor's Kunstkammer).

It contains entries up to the year 1611. The author has been identified as the painter Daniel Fröschl, who, as from 1 May 1607, was the successor of Ottavio Strada as imperial antiquarian. Fröschl was imprisoned after Rudolf's death and died in 1613. The MS is preserved in the library of the Fürst of Liechtenstein, in Vaduz.

Importance of the manuscript

The inventory has completely changed the understanding of Rudolf II as a collector. Originally, he was primarily perceived as a collector of Mirabilia, Rara and Curiosa (strange and wondrous items, which indeed he possessed), with an additional interest in paintings, but now his image as universalist and aestetic came into the foreground. In 1908 his collection was still described as a varied mix without any organisation (4), This inventory clearly exhibits the encyclopedic character of the museum. It contains specimens from the most varied areas of nature (Naturalia), art (Artefacta) and science (Scientifica) and is largely organised along these lines.

The inventory only covers the Kunstkammer in its most narrow sense. There is no listing of Rudolf's paintings, his armoury, his regalia and treasures, gems and antiques, tapistries or the decorations of the rooms.

The publication by Bauer and Haupt

The above-mentioned publication by Bauer and Haupt (see note 2) covers one complete volume (Band 72, 1976) of the Jahrbuch der Kunsthistorischen Sammlungen des Museums in Wien. It has 191 pages and includes 102 illustations.

Table of contents

Codex description
Transcription rules and abbreviations
Transcription of the inventory
List of identified objects
Illustrations (of identified objects)
Index of items
Index of names and places

Some illustrations

Following are some images of the inventory manuscript.

fol. 11 and 45

fol. 15 and 35

fol. 104 and 111

fol. 210 and 116

The marginal drawing of a long-haired lady on fol. 35 is perhaps to be identified with one of Rudolf's mandrakes shown in the following image. These two are now kept in the Vienna museum and supposedly belonged to Rudolf (5).

Four magical items of Rudolf II

Rudolf's books

In the inventory

The inventory has a section describing books, which is covered on pages 130-140 of Bauer and Haupt (1976). The books listed in the inventory are contained in a number of chests (Truhen) and it has been suggested that this indicates that they were prepared to be moved (6). Of the approximately 250 books that are listed, only (about) 5 had been identified in Bauer and Haupt (1976).

The inventory does not mention any book in unknown writing or language. In general, the large collection of alchemical books known to have been owned by Rudolf are not found in this inventory. Some of these were taken to Sweden as war booty, and later given to I. Vossius, who brought them to Leiden, where they are still preserved. The only entry which might possibly refer to the Voynich MS is:

In folio: ein philosophisch alt geschriben buch mit figurn und ein copey uff pergamen geschriben vom Mathes Dörrer, ungebunden, welchs nit gantz beysamen und Herr Hayden auß bevelch I. Mt: etliche bletter davon genommen

This is highly speculative and rather unlikely though, and in particular the reference to a copy made by a certain Mathes Dörrer is not understood. This person (Matthias Dürer ? ) could not yet be identified.

Other collections of books of Rudolf II

Richterová (2016) (see note 3) concentrates on Rudolf's alchemical book collection. See points out that the inventory includes only very few items called 'philosophical', and also that the composition of Rudolf's library (ir in fact its locaton) is not very well documented. Beside the Kunstkammer, there was also the Keyser's Hofbibliothek, which is distinct from the Viennese court library.

Rudolf liked to peruse books from the Viennese library that was managed by Hugo Blotius, and there are several handwritten records of him related to magical or alchemical books that he had transferred to Prague.

Richterová also refers to a now lost Prague library catalogue written in 1636, and from the collections that were taken to Sweden (Stockholm, Uppsala, Lund) and in part to Leiden, it is clear that Rudolf had a very large book collection of which we no longer have a clear overview.

(This will be extended).


The main source for this is Prag um 1600 (1988).
See Bauer and Haupt (1976).
See Richterová (2016).
Schlosser 1908, pp.76 - 80, which I have not seen
From: Gertrude von Schwarzenfeld: Magica aus der Zeit Rudolfs II. Antaios 5, No. 4 (1963), pp. 478-481.
M. Staudinger, priv.comm.


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Copyright René Zandbergen, 2017
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Latest update: 19/02/2017