Vittoria Feola

The Viennese Imperial Library in the Republic of Letters, particularly in the period 1630-80

Intellectual Geography / Tuesday 6 September, 2011

In the first volume of his Commentaries to the Imperial Library (1663) the newly-appointed Imperial Librarian, the antiquary Peter Lambeck, remarked that without the Republic of Letters there would have been no Imperial Library at all. He argued that since the sixteenth century Imperial Librarians had been able to build an outstanding collection of both books and manuscripts, as well as complementing material objects—such as lens for telescopes, chemical apparatus, dried herbs, stuffed animals, ancient gems and coins—thanks to their exchanges with other European scholars. Lambeck saw himself as the heir and continuator of such a century-long tradition, and set out to keep the Imperial Library an active player in the Republic of Letters. Thus, he implicitly recognised the importance of stepping into pre-existing networks of scholars in order to be part of the Respublica literaria.

My paper will explore the evidence for Lambeck’s claim, and will focus particularly on the librairianships of Sebastian Tengnagel and Lambeck himself (1630-80). It will show that, contrary to current perceptions, the Imperial Library was indeed an important actor of the Republic of Letters throughout the seventeenth century. Secondly, that the Imperial Librarians were key men for the acquisition not only of books but also of other ‘scientific’ items of the Habsburg collections. This means that the Imperial Library is a good place for a case study of the relation of antiquarianism to science in seventeenth-century Vienna. Thirdly, this paper will show that the stormy political relationships between Vienna and Paris impacted negatively on the exchanges between Imperial and King’s librarians. I will suggest that this may have been a factor in the historiographical relegation of Vienna at the periphery of the Republic of Letters.