Johann Weichard Valvasor
Relevant Non-Istrians

ohann Weichard Freiherr von Valvasor (also known as Johann as well as Ivan Wiechert / Wieckart / Weikhard and in Slovenian Janez Vajkard), an Austrian baron, was baptized on May 28, 1641, so presumably was born the day before.

He was the twelfth of seventeen children born to Jernej Valvasor and his second wife, Ana Marija Valvasor who was from the old noble family of Rauber (Ravbar).

scholar and polymath

born in Laybach

Johann is remembered today not as a baron, but as a scholar - more specifically, a historian, historiographer, geographer, ethnographer, cartographer, scientist, collector, painter and publisher - as well as a soldier and military commander.

In medieval Latin "Valvasor" or "Valvasore" held the meaning "the carrier of the feud". In western Europe its use can be traced back to the 11th century. Valvasor's ancestors originated from the province of Bergamo in northern Italy. In the 16th century, It was Johann Baptist Valvasor who established the family Valvasor in the region of Carniola in central Europe, that is now the Republic of Slovenia.

In Carniola, his family's country seat was Medija Castle near Zagorje. Bartholomew (Jernej) Valvasor greatly improved the living conditions there and erected several new outbuildings. He also built a tomb where the members of the family, mostly children, were buried. The castle was home to Jernej's wife and children for most of the year.

Johann Weichard, however, was not born there but in the family's townhouse in Laybach (Laibach, now Ljubljana) on a square that is now called Stari Trg. His father Jernej often resided in the town, where he performed important duties for the provincial estates.

Johann's father died when he was ten years old at which time he was already attending the Jesuit school in Ljubljana and from which he then graduated in 1658 at the age of seventeen. In the style of the nobility of his day, Valvasor chose not to continue his studies at a university but decided instead to broaden his knowledge and horizons by meeting the scholars of his time on a journey across Europe. His journey lasted fourteen years. He joined the army in 1663-4 and as one of twenty volunteers in the region of Slavonia fought in the Great Turkish War in the regiment of Testo Piccolomini under the command of Croatian “ban” Count Nikolaj Zrinjski. Italy, and from there crossed over to North Africa, then proceeded to France in 1670. It is said that he also went to Denmark and Spain. Two years later, he traversed again through Germany, Switzerland and Italy, then returned home.

The Jesuit parish church of St James, detail with the exterior of the church and college on a large townscape of Ljubljana from the 17th century (J. V. VALVASOR, Die Ehre dess Hertzogthums Crain, Nürnberg 1689, revised edition: Ljubljana 1977)

Upon his return in 1672, he married Anna Rosina Graffenweger von Grafenau from nearby Slatna. Soon afterwards, Johann Weichard purchased Bogenšperk Castle and črni potok near Litija and the ruins of the Lichtenberg castle downhill from Bogenšperk. It became the home to Valvasor and his family.

From his very childhood he distinguished himself with his great eagerness for research, universal scientific interest and strong patriotism. When he realized during his journeys that his country was very little known abroad or was not known at all, he made up his mind to present Carniola to the world in words and pictures... Beside Carniola, Valvasor also wrote descriptions of Carinthia and Istria, and published instructional and literary works of art.

Valvasor's engraving of Wagensperg - Bogenšperk castle.

To be able to carry out his scientific and publishing plans, Valvasor soon realized that without a copper engraving and printing shop his plans could not be realized, so on April 12, 1678 he surmounted this obstacle by establishing a graphic enterprise of his own at Bogenšperk. He installed a writing, drawing and printing workshop for copperplate engraving, the first enterprise of this kind on his native soil and which in those times was highly developed only in Germany and in the Netherlands. In Valvasor's workshop, a total of eleven different copperplate printed works were produced in eleven years, six of a topographical nature and three with religious content.

Valvasor gathered around himself sketchers and copperplate engravers, local and foreign artists. His main collaborators were Andrej Trost, Johann (Janez) Koch (c. 1650-after 1705), Pavel Ritter Vitezović, Matija Greischer, Peter Mungerstorff, Johannes Wiriex and Jernej Ramschüssl. In his last two editions he was assisted by Erasmus Francisci, a German writer from Nüremberg, as editor and author of some texts.

To be able to carry out his scientific and publishing plans, he compiled a library and a valuable graphics collection. He also collected various instruments, both musical and scientif, minerals, coins, antiques and unique objects, so that the Bogenšperk castle was transformed into a museum. It contained a library of 10,000 books, a collection of paintings and drawings, musical and scientific instruments, coins and minerals. In the realization of his works Valvasor relied on the examples of Germany, especially in the circle around Matevž Merian, a topographer with a European-wide reputation and who was Valvasor's initial inspiration and model.

In the course of preparations for the publication of his earlier topographies and during his research of the natural beauties and phenomena, he travelled throughout Carniola, Carinthia, Istria and other neighbouring countries. Driven by his enthusiasm for research and his love of natural beauties and phenomena, he persistently asked questions, took notes, made drawings and measurements, climbed mountains and descended into caves. He studied intensively in archives, especially those in Laibach (Ljubljana) where, because he was spending a lot of time in that city, he bought a house there in 1681.

Castle Sneznik. close to Cirnik Lake, where Valvasor spent his time while doing his studies for which he was accepted in the British Royal Academy.
Valvasor's engraving of the town of Cirknik (today's Cerknica).

He interrupted his research and writing for three months in 1683 when he took command of the provincial expedition of four hundred archers which were sent to Styria to fight against Hungarian rebels and Turks. He then again traded his sword for his pen and continued his preparations for his last two publications. Moreover, in 1684 and 1685 he closely studied the unusual phenomena of the intermittant (periodic) Cerknica (Cerknisko jezero) lake in Notranjska, which body of work on December 14, 1687 earned him membership in the prestigious Royal Society of London for the Promotion of Natural Knowledge, simply know as Royal Society. Two years later, Valvasor published an extensive treatise on the hydrology of Lake Cerknica, which included a plan of the lake.

In spite of his massive body of work he still found time for technical designs and inventions. He made a plan for a tunnel under the Ljubelj pass on the border between the provinces of Carniola and Carinthia, which is today the border between Slovenia and Austria (never built). He also invented a new method of casting metal. This method was used in casting the pillar of the Virgin, which was erected in 1682 in front of the St. James's church in Laibach and which today represents one of the oldest monuments in present-day Ljubljana.

In 1688, Wolfgang Moritz Endter in Nüremberg published Valvasor's work Topographia Archiducatus Carinthiae antiquae et modernae completa. For Carinthia this meant an acquisition of a unique work whose main value was due especially to its graphic part. Printed in 1679, it is an album of 320 engravings of towns, market towns, monasteries and castles in Carniolia. The engravings are paged in German alphabetic order, and  Slovenian names are added. At the end of the album is an index in German and Slovenian. The more extensive German index brings indications of town locations, and land owners are also given. The album represents an exceptionally valuable and picturesque source, indispensable to national identification. On the front page, the Ljubljana town hall, with the castle above, is shown. Above the town there is a flying angel with trumpets and flags. The Carniola's coat-of-arms can be clearly seen on one of the flags.He pioneered the study of the karst phenomena and is described as being the first explorer of the caves in the region.

Engraving from Topographia Archiducatus Carinthiae antiquae et modernae completa.

Valvasor was aware that foreigners did not know his region well enough, so he undertook the presentation of Carniola in words and pictures, and he states this in his single most important work, also published in 1689, the monumental The Glory [In Praise] of the Duchy of Carniola (Die Ehre deß Herzogthums Crain (originally written in in German and published in Nüremberg, Bavaria, the title in Slovenian is Slava vojvodine Kranjske), a genuine encyclopedia of natural science, local customs and folklore, history, and topography that covered a large part of present-day Slovenia, Istria and surrounding regions. This body of work is the culmination and at the same time the conclusion of Valvasor's scientific efforts. It represents not only his greatest and most important work, but also the most important work of the period between the Reformation and the age of Enlightenment.

Valvasor's masterpiece is the first systematic overview of the history, territory, and way of life of Carniola and nearby regions. It consists of 15 volumes divided in four parts with 3,532 pages, including 528 pictures and 24 supplements. This work offers a universal 17th century description of a large part of what is now Slovenia, a feat that is virtually unparalled in any other country of that time. It contains a host of geographical, historical, ethnographical and other information. In addition to maps it also features numerous drawings of castles, towns, boroughs and monasteries, national costumes, presentations of the folk way of life and work and historical paintings. It contains one of the most valuable views of Fiume (Rijeka) when this city had only a few thousand inhabitants, together with historic illustrations of the castles in the interior part of Istria, and the cities and villages to which are among his most interesting chapters.

The four parts (as described at

Book I is signed by Francisci and is a short book; 96 pages are divided into 8 chapters, underpinned by 7 illustrations. It brings the discussion about the names of the peoples who in the ancient times lived in Carniola. The author establishes the source of the name Carniola and speculates without presenting a historical basis.

Book II has 200 pages. It is different by its contents and the value. It has 27 pictures, one large supplement and it is very different from the first book. It is a short topography (topography and geography) and it represents the exposition of the whole work. It really is the first book of this monumental work that presents the country. It is divided into 83 chapters, which bring a kind of statistical review of Carniola. The author tries to explain in a simple fashion the land and natural phenomena he observes. There is the map of Carniola and the first detailed illustration of “the kozolec” (hayrack).

Book III has 168 pages of scientific descriptions. In 38 chapters Valvasor and in parts Francisci describe mountains, rivers, lakes, the weather, the damage done by the weather (especially hail), illnesses, plants, animals and mines. There is a special chapter about herbs; the witch’s ointment was mentioned and this provoked a long Francisci’s remark. Superstition is a kind of red thread of this book where Valvasor moves away from various kinds of superstitions. There are also very important reports about coal, an inventory of dormice (polh) and about the experiments with certain antidotes. In addition, there are 12 pictures.

Book IV was planned before the publication of Schoenleben’s Carniola. It is of medium length; with 232 pages and in 53 chapters, and it deals with natural rarities of the country – fossils, stones, natural forts, walking or traversing snow-covered territory (the skiers of Bloke). The author gives great attention to the subterranean – the Kras (Karst). He gives high praise to Kras, especially the Predjama. Special attention is focused on the Lake Cerknica – there are 78 pages of the description and to supplement the book there is the only appendix in the book – a panoramic map of Lake Cerknica; and 7 illustrations.

View of Fiume (Rijeka). Click image to enlarge.

One of the many towns of Istria and its surrounds in Valvasor's encyclopia was Rijeka (pictured left). The view that Valvasor captured in his image shows the town seen from the sea, so, the southern façade of it is best represented with the recognizable town tower. On the West side is shown a massive fort of St. Jerome through which the suburbs of the town were accessed. On the eastern side of the southern rampart a round tower of Sokolkula can be seen. The eastern town rampart was not completely straight but lined from the St. Mary bastion towards the North. There, a passage towards the old town port was opened sometime in the mid 17th century. Within the town area some of its characteristic monuments can be recognized such as the church of St. Blaise and the Capucine church. The fort Trsat with the Franciscan monastery and St. Mary’s church rise above the canyon of Rječina. In the background the hill of Kalvarija with a small church can be recognized. In the area of Žakalj a Roman rampart is identified stretching deep into the inland zone. To the west of the town Franciscan vineyards are illustrated.

Left and above: Die Ehre deß Herzogthums Crain, 2nd edition (1877), Cover and title pages

Above: Istrian town of Kršan.

Right: Istrian costumes.

Valvasor's engraving of the "kozolec" (corn-rack), one of the symbols of Slovenia.

Valvasor's last work describes and explains numerous geographic and geologic features which have never before been described. It influenced geoscience for centuries, and Slovenian poets and writers used the book as a rich resource for their own work. There is a second edition, published in the 19th century in which the editor tried to correct mispellings, which means he transformed the style and language of the 17th century into the language of the 19th century. Many authors use the first edition, but as it is very rare and expensive, sometimes you can only see the second edition. This fact explains differences in language if different authors cite the same passages. Today Valvasor’s book is recognized as an extraordinary work of scholarship and a unique contribution to the social history of not only the Slovenian, but Istrian people as well.

Linguist Matjaz Kmecl said of this "first ambassador of Slovenia":

Well this was not Slovenia as we know it today, we are talking about the central Slovenian region of today including Istria and the coastal part of it. As Valvasor himself said, he was led by an instinct feeling of belonging to his native country and he felt an urge to spread the country's honour and glory across the world, because it was a totally unknown country, people knew nothing about it, although it has many natural and cultural treasures."

Valvasor was a true cosmopolitan. His origins lie in the northern corner of Italy; the language he used in writing was German, and he was a Slovene national. However, Kmecle points out, we must keep in mind that this was during a time when Slovenia, as we know it today, did not exist.

DieEhredes.gif (58071 bytes)In this work, Valvasor describes in detail, as he says,"after painstaking investigation, research and experience"regions, valleys, fields, forests, mountains, flowing and standing waters, underground mountain lakes, particularly the miraculous Cerknica Lake, marvellous caves and many other unusual natural wonders, also plants, ores, mines, precious stones, old coins, animals, birds, fishes, etc., counties, great estates, castles, cities, towns, border fortresses, and their past and present owners and superiors, commanders, inhabitants, languages, customs, apparel.

Trades, occupations, religion, saints, patriarchs, bishops, religious orders, parishes, churches, monasteries, offices, courts, professions and families; also dukes, yearbooks, and old and new attractions. Of particular value. is the section on Ljubljana, which is the first complex history of the city.

It was an extraordinary and unique work in its own time, admired for its painstainking investigation, observation and vivid descriptions, as well as its scope. It is also destinguished for its engravings and copperplates. It is entirely due to Johann Weichard 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 he was ahead of his time, in attitudes and judgements he did not see beyond his environment and era of which he was a product. His greatest achievement is that he does not only see the great events, the castle and the church but he lovingly and with great interest describes the lives and customs of the common people. He is interested in everything that he sees, the rich tapestry of life that makes this 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.

He mentions three churches in Loški Potok; his map of one of Dobrepolje's major caves, Podpeška Jama, is thought to be the first. He describes the unique use of skis and the development of skiing on the Bloke plateau, as well as commenting on the size and wealth of the church in Nova Vas. The route over Hrušica, the Podkraj Lanišče road, Roman remains and Stara Pošta are all described, and the seasonal lake and other karst features of Cerkniško Jezero are mapped and described in great detail.

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With his exceptional works and with his ability and sacrifices Johann Weichard Valvasor secured himself a prominent place not only in the Slovene and Istrian but also in the Austrian and the broader European culture. A European in spirit and by erudition, a Carniolan by his origin, he is ranked among the most notable and the greatest men of Slovenia's past.  A commemorative statue stands in Valvasor Square in front of the Natural History Museum in Ljubljana. A Slovenian postage stamp was issued in 1993 on the 300th anniversary of his death and the 20-tolars banknote is also dedicated in his honor.

Above, left: Photograph taken from a 1930 postcard.

Johann Weichard Valvasor

Valvasor Square
Museum of Natural History

Valvasor's works - the library and collection of engravings - is now kept at the Zagreb Metropolitan Library in the Valvasor library. It contains books from almost all scientific areas, mostly decorated with copperplates of a familiar copperplate engraver M. Merian. During his lifetime J.W. Valvasor gathered a valuable graphic collection with approximately 7.300 graphics and drawings created in period from 15th till 17th century. He bought a smaller part as a collection from Slovenian painter G. Wubitsch, and a bigger part he collected on his journeys through Europe. At the end of his lifetime, he sold the collection, through P. R. Vitezović, to the Zagrebian bishop A. I. Mikulić (1688 – 1694), who built the Library in 1692.

Only few possessions of the Valvasor family have survived in Slovenia: Bogenšperk Castle, where Johann Weichard created a home for his large family, a piece of wallpaper from his library, a piece of faded lace from the tomb at Medija, some family portraits and several documents, including the well-known testament of his mother, in which she disowned Valvasor's older brother for having fallen in love with and married a "lowborn" girl in Graz.

In the words of Branko Reisp (Dvanajst velikih Slovencev) about Valvasor's last and most significant work:

Hardly any country of the time has been able produced such a work. With the description of Carniola the central Slovenian region, Valvasor presented a comprehensive view of today’s Slovenia, Istria, and surrounding regions in the second half of the 17th century, during the break between two historical periods, when religious battles finished and the Turkish danger was finally averted and life started to flow at an even pace with the promise of progress. So it was that the leading work of Slovenian historiography and a historical source was written, a rich treasury of information, an encyclopedia of Slovenia, not attempted for another 300 years.

Founded on archival materials which no longer exist, it also provides insight into an important historical period of Slovenian history: reformation and anti-reformation, Turkish incursions, and peasant revolts. As importantly he describes the life in cities, towns and villages, customs, beliefs and superstitions, and more. Valvasor has produced much more than compilation of historical facts. He is interested in what people think and believe and so has given us a social history which is invaluable in giving insight into the 17th century Carniola and so the major part of what is called Slovenia and Istria today.

Die Ehre deß Hertzogthums Crain was edited and printed in Nürnberg, in Bavaria. Although some say he published his book on his own, the little typography in Ljubljana would not have been able to manage such a large and technically difficult work (with more than 500 prints, etc.). The publisher was the famous Wolfgang Moritz Endter, by whom had had to be published, for example, even one of the most famous works of the 17th century, the Simplicissimus of Hans Jacob Christoph Grimmelshausen (Grimmelshausen changed later his mind because of money-problems, and he had to look for another publisher).

The costs of Valvasor's extensive scientific and publishing activity, however, exceeded his means and it brought about his financial ruin. He sold his črni potok castle, his library and graphics collection and finally in 1692 also his Bogenšperk castle and his house in Ljubljana. He moved to Krško, where he bought a house with what remained of his fortune. He died there in September or October 1693 (for the lack of archival records, the precise date of his death remains unknown), and is buried in the family tomb near Izlake.

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Created: Wednesday, February 22, 2006; Last Updated: Friday, November 09, 2012
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