Universität WIen An Historical Tour of the University of Vienna

Archiv der Universität Wien



In Austria as in every other part of Europe except Italy humanism arrived rather late. The universites were particularly conservative and defended themselves against representatives of the studia humanitatis. The four faculties of the mediaeval university (Arts, Medicine, Jurisprudence and Theology) were ordered hierarchically: Theology occupied the highest place, followed by Jurisprudence, Medicine and the Foundation School of Arts. The subject of study of the latter consisted of the septem Artes Liberales (seven liberal arts), which were subdivided into the trivium of Rhetoric, Grammar and Dialectics, and the quadrivium of Arithmetic, Geometry, Astrology (Astronomy) and Music. In ancient times the liberal arts were those intellectual activities that were deemed worthy of a free man and that were unconnected with earning a living.

The Humanists established themselves first of all in the Faculty of Arts. 80 years after the foundation of the University of Vienna, Enea Silvio Piccolomini, subsequently the humanist Pope Pius II, come to the fore and gave the scholastically rooted teachers in Vienna a lesson in the Humanist approach. At the Imperial Court in Wiener Neustadt Piccolomini gathered a number of early German humanists who occupied themselves with the classical Latin writers and lived according to the urbane style. This group included the two Viennese authorities Georg (Aunpeckh) von Peuerbach and Johannes Regiomontanus. Peuerbach's letters and poems were considered a model of the best Latin style. He also took Astronomy and Mathematics to a high point in Vienna. His efforts were of great value in bringing about a relationship between the (quadrivial) natural sciences and the humanities.

Peuerbach's friend and pupil Regiomontanus began his teaching career with lectures on Virgil. The abiding achievement of both Peurbach and Regiomontanus, however, is to be found in the Natural Sciences. Peuerbach was seen as the most important planetary theorist of his day, while Regiomontanus was probably the most important German astronomer and mathematician of the 15th Century.

Lit.: Helmut Grössing, Humanistische Naturwissenschaft. Zur Geschichte der Wiener mathematischen Schulen des 15. und 16. Jahrhunderts (= Saecula Spiritalia 8, Baden-Baden 1983); ¾ Ders., Die Wiener Univerisät im Zeitalter des Humanismus von der Mitte des 15. bis zur Mitte des 16. Jahrhunderts. In: Das Alte Universitätsviertel in Wien, 1385-1985, ed. Günther Hamann, Kurt Mühlberger, Franz Skacel (= Schriftenreihe des Universitätsarchivs, Universität Wien, 2. Band, Wien 1985) 37-45.

Astronomer observing the sky with a Quadrant

With the quadrant the positions of stars could be measured on the horizontal system. The picture shows an astronomer engaged in this activity. The Viennese Master Johannes von Gmunden is presumed to have undertaken his observations of the sky from the tower of the Ducal College. (Original in the Austrian National Library, Cod. 2352, fol. 34r)