Remembering Janez Vajkard Valvasor

Janez Vajkard Valvasor

A two-day seminar on the 17th century Slovenian natural historian and polymath Janez Vajkard Valvasor was held this week in Ljubljana. Valvasor was a remarkable character, army commander, nobleman, member of the Royal Geographical Society in London, and publisher of the monumental work - the Glory of the Duchy of Carniola.

The participants of the symposium, among them linguist Matjaz Kmecl stressed that Valvasor importantly influenced modern ethnology and that he played a major role in Slovenian culture. Matjaz Kmecl about the objectives of the symposium:

"The objective of the symposium is to once again examine the exceptional role Valvasor himself has played and to examine the importance of his work as a Slovenian or European encyclopaedist of the 17th century, for he had been a true cosmopolitan. He travelled through Europe and he was a member of the Royal Society in London."

Born in Ljubljana into a family of local nobility, Valvasor's journey across Europe lasted for 14 years during which he met famous scholars of the time. During that period he also travelled to northern Africa and joined the army in the Austrian-Turkish war. Upon returning home, he acquired Bogensperk Castle in central Slovenia, where he had a writing, drawing and printing workshop. He spent a fortune on writing and publishing books to the extent that, towards the end of his life, he had to sell the castle and his rich library.

"He wrote mostly in German, above all because he wanted the Glory and honour of his homeland that is the region of Kranjska in the central Slovenian region, to be attainable to a broader European audience. The reason is that during his time the Standard Slovenian language already existed but only very few people knew about the language."

As he was aware that foreigners did not know his region well enough, he undertook the presentation of Carniola in words and pictures. His most important work was "the Glory of the Duchy of Carniola", a genuine encyclopaedia of natural science, Slovenian customs and folklore, history, and topography that covered a large part of present-day Slovenia. Published 1689 the book consists of over 3,500 pages and provides a memorable description of the Slovenian land of the time. I asked Matjaz Kmecl whether he thinks that Valvasor was the 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."

According to Kmecl, Janez Vajkard Valvasor was a personality that carried the core of being a Central European in himself. He was a true cosmopolitan - his origins lie in the northern corner of Italy; the language he used in writing was German. He was a Slovene national, however we have to keep in mind that this was during a time when Slovenia, as we know it today, did not exist.