Samuel Von Brukenthal (1721-1803). A Collector, An Epoch, A Destiny

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An emblem of Sibiu, the Brukenthal Museum is one of the most important abodes of culture that has garnered national and European repute. Since its official opening on February 25, 1803, it laid an indelible mark on the cultural life of the city. By his entire complex activity of a politician and man of culture, the founder of this establishment, Baron Samuel von Brukenthal (1721-1803) contributed to the betterment of the Sibiu cultural environment, helping Transylvania keep abreast of central Europe's artistic spirit.An encyclopedic spirit, he got acquainted mostly with German culture and philosophy, being a contemporary of Immanuel Kant (1724-1804), whose generous ideas greatly influenced Brukenthal. " 'Dare use your own intellect,' such is the catchphrase of the Enlightenment, for Enlightenment needs nothing but freedom, specifically that which is the least harmful of what is called freedom: the public use of reason in all regards."[1] Baron Samuel von Brukenthal was, thus, a worthy representative of Transylvanian Enlightenment. Intelligent, ambitious, and hard working, as his first biographer Georg Schasser presented him, he was "a razor-sharp spirit with numberless innate possibilities, passionately cultivated in foreign universities,"[2] budding into a model politician, and man of culture.Samuel was the youngest son of Michael Breckner, who was created Baron von Brukenthal during the Francisc Rakozi revolt, on June 8, 1724, and of Susanna Conrad von Heydendorf, coming from the patrician Heydendorf family of Medias. He was born on June 8, 1721, at Nocrich, near Sibiu. He went first to the Unitarian College of Cluj, and then to the High School of Sibiu. In 1743 he studied at the LawSchool of the HalleUniversity under Martin Schmezel (a history professor and a passionate numismatics collector).[3] In Halle, he became member of the Masonic lodge "The Three Golden Keys." That was an interesting period in the life of the young Samuel, which would introduce him to a number of social relations. He then continued his studies at Jena, until 1745, when he returned to Sibiu with a vast European culture. By marrying Katherina von Klockner, daughter of the city's mayor, he acquired citizenship and gained good prospects of ascension. Starting with 1751, Samuel took the post of vice-mayor. The audience with Empress Maria Theresa on March 25, 1753 was to lay the foundations of a brilliant diplomatic career.[4] Thus, the young Samuel von Brukenthal began to climb the social ladder, having a great diplomatic and political future: he became province secretary, province chancellery, president of the Aulic Chancellery, in 1765, decorated (the same year) with the small cross of the Saint Stephen Order, privy councilor of Empress Maria Theresa, then governor of Transylvania, since July 30, 1777, a position that he would hold for ten years, boasting thus a remarkable social and political status, as his contemporaries remarked. "In only six years, from a modest applicant, the son of a simple judge in a God-forsaken province, with none of the usual family connections in the imperial city, Brukenthal became a front-ranking politician of the monarchy."[5] He was the only Saxon of Transylvania to be promoted to high state jobs, in a geographic and political area dominated by Catholicism. In his new quality as governor of Transylvania, Samuel Von Brukenthal deployed a continuous, untiring work, often lauded by the imperial sovereign, in many fields, establishing in Transylvania a fertile network of relationships with central Europe. The impressive array of his daily concerns, some ending with excellent proposals and results, others in failure, spanned the economic, social, and cultural fields, to mention only a few. Samuel von Brukenthal actively participated in the drafting of a new tax system, perseveringly working on this ever since his return from Vienna. In fact, "the economic commission represented an excellent school for him in various difficult fiscal matters, a field in which he protractedly but vainly tried to remove the unjust levies burdening peasants and craftsmen." [6]In 1759 he wrote The History of Transylvanian Saxons (Memorable deeds from the history of Transylvanian Saxons), essentially a plea for the national rights of the Saxons.Concerned with the destiny of young people desirous to learn, Samuel von Brukenthal militated for the setting up of a Protestant University at Sibiu, in this sense drawing up the report "Thoughts (Ideas) referring to the creation of a University in Transylvania," dating from 1765. This document provided for the establishment of a department for management, economy, civic culture, technology, geodesy, architecture, engineering, and matters of artillery. The students were also to receive lessons of riding, fencing, and dance, as well as of liberal arts: drawing, painting, and music. On graduation, the students would have been awarded university diplomas. The project also provided for equality among students of noble and common origin. It was never turned into fact but, thanks to the innovating ideas put forth, it nevertheless represented a considerable stride. Samuel von Brukenthal firmly supported the development of crafts, aware that they contributed fully to the enhancement of cities. In this sense, he proposed the foundation at Sibiu of Commercien-Cossesus, the forerunner of the Chamber of Commerce. Once established, this body had to regulate the production and sale of Transylvanian products, making express suggestions for the improvement of the economic situation, and the development of trade in the area. Baron Brukenthal encouraged the development of agriculture and animal husbandry. Along this line, he proposed to set up an agricultural association to keep up interest in land cultivation. He also fostered the culture of industrial plants, of linen and hemp, and cultivated the first plots of potatoes in Transylvania, at his Avrig estate. He supervised and reared fine breeds of animals, bringing rams from Spain, raising white bulls at Ucea, the only such farm in Transylvania, and setting up a renowned thoroughbred horse ranch at Sambata de Jos. On his Avrig estate, at the SummerPalace, Brukenthal arranged a splendid garden with exotic trees and hothouses filled with rare flowers, copied, in proportion, after Viennese models. He was a far-sighted man and a visionary too, who won the plaudit of most of his contemporaries. A letter dated December 5, 1774, written by state councilor von Gebler, read: "How many times I had wished each province of the monarchy should have a Brukenthal as leader but judging by the ways of the world and the rarity of exceptional men I realized I was asking for something that could not be attained, as when the public and the critic demand only perfect actors."[7] In his new quality as Governor, Samuel von Brukenthal wanted to build a suitable residence for himself. The spot was chosen in 1778, the actual location of the Palace, then taken by the Klockner and Offner mansions, which were demolished. The architect of the palace is not known. Bielz, Schuller and Göllner maintain that Sibiu architect Johann Eberhardt Blaumann [8] made the design, and supervised the construction. Others think that it was one of the Martinelli family of Austrian architects who fathered the blueprints, namely Joseph Franz.[9] Erected on a rectangular plan, enclosing an inner yard, the main building was finished in 1783, following which the two lateral wings were added. The works ended in 1785-1786. The main façade is temperate, sober baroque. The coat-of-arms of the Brukenthal family[10], garlands, wreaths of flowers, and rosettes make up decorative elements created by sculptor Hoffmeyer (son of Oradea sculptor Josef Hoffmeyer). The Atlantes destined to flank the portal of the inner yard[11] are attributed to the same sculptor. The interiors were arranged between 1779 and 1786, the major halls being situated on the first floor, at the principal façade. Baron Samuel von Brukenthal brought craftsmen from Austria and Germany to create the ornamental details of the interiors: Johann Tauffer of Vienna and Nikolaus Jaffer of Eisenstadt, who laid the wallpaper in the drawing rooms, cabinet maker Johann Bauernfeind, and stone carver Anton Herzum. Ludwig Christian Helzel created the artistic door and window frames. The golden wooden medallions above the doorframes of the rooms on the first floor (the façade) had engravings by Piccart as a source of inspiration, drawn from the poems of Ovid (Metamorphoses, book II and III, Fasti, book II, and Ars Amatoriae). The music salon, with perfect acoustics, has oval bordered medallions with musical instruments delineated within: a violin, a flute, and a horn. Most original are the white faience fireplaces mounted on brass feet made, it seems, in a Viennese workshop headed by Marianne Blaichner. The northern and southern wings of the palace featured apartments for guests, and the western wing hosted the baron's famous library. The palace represented Sibiu's hob of socio-cultural life for many years. Baron Brukenthal made available a hall in his Palace to the Society of Readers. The governor hoped to organize an Academy with departments for nature science, history, and literature. This project could not be carried through but the Societas philohistoricum was established instead, which started its activity by publishing the works of the Transylvanian chroniclers. Moreover, Baron Brukenthal sponsored the publication of the first local scientific review, Siebenbürgische Qualtalschrift, a Transylvanian quarterly of an encyclopedic character.[12] In 1790, the Society of Writers began its activity with the support of Baron Brukenthal, who invited historian August Schlözer to write a history of Transylvanian Saxons. This would materialize in Kritische Sammlungen zur Geschichte der Deutschen in Siebenburgen.A great lover of music, the name of Baron Samuel von Brukenthal is also connected to the activity of the Collegium Musicum Society. Established in 1753, the Music Society kept its doors open for about twenty years. After its inauguration, the BrukenthalPalace hosted exquisite concerts. Michael von Heydendorf, the baron's cousin noted in his autobiography that: "…in my quality as relative I had the opportunity to go to the house of His Excellency Baron Samuel von Brukenthal. Also, twice a week I attended His Excellency's Collegium Musicum."[13] These concerts were given by musicians in the city's orchestra or by foreign artists. The baron's house register mentions payments made to two bugle singers arrived in Sibiu from Bohemia, the then renowned Fingerer and Wartsitsek. A list of musical instruments, drawn up by the private secretary of Baron Johann Theodor von Hermann, now in the manuscript collection of the Brukenthal Library, featured 13 items. A concert in honor of princess Cantacuzino and Count Ceri was organized in the music room of the BrukenthalPalace, specially arranged for the purpose, in 1790, when Baron Brukenthal unofficially inaugurated his collection of European art.[14]To crown his polyhistoric attainments and inclinations to universal culture, Baron Samuel von Brukenthal dedicated many hours to his passion as a collector. To this end, he surrounded himself with competent people such as abbot Neumann, library and editor Grässer, imperial councilor Baron Karl Adolf von Braunn, imperial counselor Baron Tobias Phillip von Gebler, Johann Martin Stock, Daniel Georg Neugeboren, and Johann Friedrich Seiwert. He acquired an impressive amount of books, which perfectly illustrated Enlightenment gusto. Baron Brukenthal's library, which from the very beginning numbered 15,972 volumes, remained famous across the ages, especially for its Alte Sammlung (about 200) manuscripts, the Breviarum Brukenthal, a 15th century antiphon book of religious songs written on parchment in Gothic letters, with exceptional illuminations by Flemish painters Simon Bening and Gerhard Horenbaut, Codex Altenberge, as well as philosophy, art, medicine, religion books, and numerous maps. Victor Neumannn says: "The spirit of Homo Europaeus can be very distinctly felt in the SibiuPalace, in the mind and soul of those around it. The books and the paintings give a good measure of the enlightened ideas penetrating Transylvania. Theological literature, prevailing in the previous centuries, was gradually making room to sciences: geometry, geology, medicine, geography, astronomy, and optic microtechnology, while national languages replaced Latin more and more."[15] The works of Kant, Herder, and Voltaire held an important place, just as among encyclopedias we can mention that of Diderot and Algemeine Deutsche Bibliothek. Besides the books bought by auction in Vienna, Brukenthal also purchased volumes from the library of Rohan, French ambassador, the Library of the Vienna University, and the Library of Count Toldalagi. His collection of rare books from the 16th-18th centuries contained the first edition of Thomas Morus' Utopia, printed in Basel, in 1518, and illustrated by brothers Hans and Ambrosius Holbein, On the proportions of the human body, issued in Nuremberg, in 1528, and illustrated by Albrecht Dürer, Hortus animae, printed in Wittenberg, and illustrated by Lucas Cranach. Mention should also be made of famous humanists like Erasmus of Rotterdam, Giovanni Boccaccio, Francesco Petrarch, and Machiavelli. Here we must also name the Cosmographia by Sebastian Münster, printed in 1578 with illustrations by Hans Holbein the Younger, and the 1541 Bible issued in Antwerp with more than 90 copper engravings. It seems that about 200 florins were spent yearly on books. Friedrich Christian Hahnemann, the father of homeopathy, was for a time the library's custodian.Starting from 1780 Baron Samuel von Brukenthal began to collect minerals (he was subsequently elected a honorary member of the Mineralogy Society of Jena), shortly acquiring a collection of about 2080 pieces, which abbot and custodian Josef Carl Eder put in a catalogue. Impressed by this collection, Jens Esmark, a Danish collector wrote: "…by the diversity of shapes and forms of crystallization, at Sibiu you can see the most valuable collection of gold nuggets."[16] Most of them are pieces from Transylvania, native gold samples, gold-silver tellurite, quartz antimonite, barite, calcite, samples of rhodochrosite, discovered for the first time in the world in the ApuseniMountains, at Baia de Aries, and Sacaramb.In his family there had developed a passion for numismatics, which he also took up and further augmented in the milieu he frequented in Germany and Austria, thanks to the numismatics courses given by Martin Schmeizel, and the numismatics books he purchased. At his death, this collection included 17,000 coins, ancient and medieval, with outstanding gold medals and coins. We should also mention the Roman republican and imperial denarii, the ancient copper coins, the Hellenistic coins, the silver tetradrachms, the Transylvanian talers and ducats. Just as important are the medals issued by the Habsburg House. Owing to the scientific importance of this variegated collection, it was to be mentioned in Catalogus Numorum Hungariae ac Transilvaniae, vol. III, p. 290, published in Pest in 1807 by Abbot St. Schoenvisner (Schönwiesner). Another less vast yet notable collection is that of archaeological pieces gathered by Baron Samuel von Brukenthal, namely Roman statues of divinities (Jupiter and Mithras), cult statuettes, funerary pieces, bas-reliefs. The piece de resistance, unique within Roman Dacia, is an Asian chthonian deity called Hecate triformis, found at Salinae (Ocna Mures).The most important and valuable collection of Baron Samuel von Brukenthal is, doubtlessly, the fine arts one.The first information regarding the beginning of this collection can be found in the expenditure register from 1770.[17] One of the baron's advisers and intermediates was Transylvanian painter Johann Martin Stock, settled at Sibiu in 1786.Usually, the baron bought paintings by auction, in Vienna. There is information that he also purchased paintings from French immigrants. Custodian Michael Csaki mentioned in this context Wouvermann's Wooden Bridge that once belonged to Count Mirabeau.[18]The only proof as to the purchases made in person by the famous collector dates from 1785-86 and 1787-88, when he was in Vienna.[19] Baron Brukenthal seldom bought works of art directly from their authors. The odd instances when he did so refer to the portraits of members of the imperial family and his own portrait by painter Martin Meytens.Over the years, the baron managed to put together an important collection illustrating the major European schools of painting: Flemish-Dutch, Italian, German-Austrian, and French. To mention only a few great names: Peter Paul Rubens, Jakob Jordaens, Franz Snyders, Marinus von Reymerswaele, Jan Fyt, Titian, Alessandro Magnasco, Tullio Lombardo, Lucas Cranach, Hans von Aachen, Hans Schwab von Wertinger, Paul Troger, Martin Neytens. Their works make up a variegated and extremely interesting collection of European art.The print cabinet displays foreign engravings put together by Samuel von Brukenthal. Most have a special decorative and artistic value, illustrating the Flemish-Dutch, Italian, French, and German schools of the 17th century. Of the glorious engravers on display in the BrukenthalMuseum we should note: Albrecht Dürer, Marcantario Raimondi, Egidius Sadeler, Bolswert Boetius, Hendrick Goltzius and his pupil Jakob Matham, Schelte Bolswert, Jan Saenredam, Agostino Carraci, Jacques Callot, G. B. Tiepolo, and Piranesi.This collection came into the limelight very early. The first mention drawing the public's attention to the library and the print cabinet was made by Johann Lehmann, in 1785, in his work Reise von Preßburg nach Hermannstadt in Siebenbürgen.[20] Then, in 1773, the Almanach von Wien mentioned, next to the gallery of prince von Lichtenstein, the cabinet of his Excellency Baron Samuel von Brukenthal,[21] while the calendar of 1790 made by Martin von Hochmeister in Sibiu detailed that the Brukenthal Gallery featured 13 halls, on the second floor of the BrukenthalPalace.In 1790, at the unofficial opening of Baron Samuel von Brukenthal's art collection it was situated on the second floor of the palace in the Big Square, and at his death, in 1803, it included 1200 paintings and 900 prints. According to a testament clause of February 15, 1817, the art collection was opened as a public museum during a series of festivities hosted by the EvangelicHigh School.Following the death of the empress (on October 29, 1780), the baron's relations with emperor Joseph II witnessed many tensional moments, terminated with the quite sudden retirement of Baron Brukenthal, in 1787, for "reasons of advanced age and slackening powers." He was accorded the Great Cross with collar of the Saint Stephen Order.His testament one more time throws into relief the moral and civic profile as well as his extraordinary capacity to live before his times, bequeathing to posterity a splendid collection and a noble catchphrase that guided his entire life: Fidem genusque serbabo (To my faith and people I will stay faithful). Desirous not to have his fortune divided, he used the fideicommissum testament clause according to which part of his wealth and his art collections could not be dismembered but conveyed from generation to generation to a sole universal heir. When the last male in line died he was to leave everything to the Evangelic High School of Sibiu (the EvangelicChurch respectively).The collection made an exception from the fideicommissum provisions, as the testament stipulated expressly: "…the library, the paintings and the prints, then the collection of minerals, the antiquities and the numismatics collection in their entirety, together with the 36,000 florins shall pass into the eternal and uncontested property of the Evangelic High School of Sibiu. To preserve the integrity of the institute after my demise, the first priest of the EvangelicalChurch in town, together with a lay person, member of the Consistory, will become joint directors, and will see to it that everything should go according to my stipulations." Of this, 800 florins were meant yearly to enrich the library, the rest for the upkeep of the palace and the salaries of the personnel. According to the last will and testament, the collections were to be put at the disposal of the public: "I wish expressly that when a capital of 36,000 florins will be established and deposited, to use the interest to pay a librarian and maintenance personnel so that access to the library, to the fine art gallery, the minerals and numismatics collections in my Sibiu residence be made possible to the public, between certain hours and on certain days."
[1] Kant, Immanuel, Werkausgabe, IX, Suhrkamp, 1974, apud Victor Neumann, Tentatia lui homo europaeus, Bucharest, 1991, p. 139.[2] Gölner, Carl, Samuel von Brukenthal, Sein Leben und Werk in Wort und Bild, Kriterion Verlag, 1977, p.8.[3] Idem, p. 7.[4] Apud Samuel von Brukenthal, Viata si opera in imagini prezentare de Carl Gollner, in Transilvania, serie noua, an XXXII (CVIII), no 11/12, Sibiu, 2003, p.65.[5] Idem, p. 68.[6] Idem, p. 68.[7] Idem, p. 71.[8] Schuller, Georg, Adolph, Samuel von Bruckenthal, Munich, 1969, vol. III, pp. 255-56.[9] Sigerus, Emil, Von alten Hermannstadt, Sibiu, vol. I,1922, p. 61.[10] Schuller, G.A., op. cit., p. 260.[11] Idem, p. 260.[12] Göllner, Carl, op. cit., p. 58.[13] Michael von Heydendorf, Archiv des Vereins fur Siebenburgische Landeskunde, Neue Volke, 16, 1882, p. 660.[14] Vlaicu, Monica, Sibiu, oras al muzicii, Muzeul de istorie Sibiu, booklet, May-June 1999.[15] Apud Ittu, Gudrun Liane, Muzeul Brukenthal de la constituirea colectiilor pana in zilele noastre, in Convergente transilvane, vol. 9, Sibiu, 200, p. 24.[16] Göllner, Carl, op. cit., p.62.[17] Brukentalisches Hausarchiv, C.D., id. 1770.[18] Csaky, Michael, Festschrift zur Erinneung an den 200 Geburtstag seines Stiftners, Samuel von Brukenthal, Sibiu, 1921,[19] Avram, Alexandru, Gravura italiana, Sibiu,1976, p. 8.[20] Ittu, Gudrun, op. cit. p. 36.[21] Sigerus, Emil, Beiträge zur Geschichte der Baron Brukenthalischen Germäldegalerie, in Mitteillungen aus dem Baron Brukenthalischen Museum, V, Sibiu, 1935, pp. 26, 36.

by Plural magazine