Universität Wien An Historical Tour of the University of Vienna

Archiv der Universität Wien



After the appearance of Enea Silvio Piccolomini, in later years the humanist Pope Pius II (1458-64), at the court of Emperor Frederick III there were many attempts to incorporate the new intellectual direction at the University of Vienna. The humanist movement finally crystalised in the College of Poets (Collegium poetarum et mathematicorum) that was founded by Emperor Maximilian I and incorporated into the university. Two chairs, for Poetics and Rhetoric and for the "Mathematical Discplines" (i. e. Natural Sciences), were established. In this way the humanist subjects initially remained outside the more scholastically inclined Faculty of Arts, the predecessor of the Philosophical Faculty. As first director of the College of Poets the "Archpoet" Konrad Celtis (1459-1508) was appointed in 1497. He was called to Vienna after previously teaching in Ingolstadt. The king also bestowed on him the right of "coronation of poets" which passed on his death to the university. The Head of the College, accordingly, could give to graduates the status of poetae laureati, or poets crowned with the laurel wreath. Celtis was a mathematically inclined poet who, through his own efforts, established an intenational circle of humanistically minded scholars which was also manifest in the sodalitas litteraria Danubiana that he founded. The Vienna Humanist Circle, which included the scholars Georg Tanstetter-Collimitius, Johannes Stabius, Thomas Resch, Andreas Stiborius, Stefan Rosinus, Johannes Cuspinianus and the reformer Joachim Vadianus, was closely allied with the court of Maximilian I.

After Martin Luther's Reformation there were, from 1520 on, the most serious crises in universities throughout Europe and these the Austrian Prince and later Emperor Ferdinand I sought to counter by means of comprehensive reforms. In the course of these reforms he renewed the Vienna College of Poets and promoted a revival of the humanist traditions and coronation of poets, but these again fell into obscurity soon after his death. The new educational approach, however, was integrated into the curriculum of the Philosophical Faculty and was included in the "Humanist Grammar School" established by the Jesuits and subsequently linked to the university (Akademisches Gymnasium).

Lit.: Franz Graf-Stuhlhofer, Humanismus zwischen Hof und Universität. Georg Tannstetter (Collimitius) und sein wissenschaftliches Umfeld in Wien des frühen 16. Jahrhunderts (= Schriftenreihe des Universitätsarchivs, Universität Wien, Band 8, Wien 1996); ¾ Kurt Mühlberger, Zwischen Reform und Tradition. Die Universität Wien in der Zeit des Renaissance-Humanismus und der Reformation. In: Mitteilungen der Österreichischen Gesellschaft für Wissenschaftsgeschichte 15 (1995) 1342.

Celtis Chest, 1508

This is a view of the Celtis Chest with a figure of Apollo playing the violin on Mount Parnassus. The wooden chest was made after the death of Konrad Celtis (1508) to store the coronation insignia of the Collegium poetarum et mathematicorum. The right to crown poets which was granted to Celtis by the Emperor Maximilian I passed after his death to the Faculty of Arts. (Original in the Archive of the University of Vienna)


This view of the Celtis Chest shows Philosophy enthroned, with books in the right hand and the sceptre in the left. On the sash, above the monogram of Dürer, there are Greek letters that symbolise the route from Philosophy via the seven Arts to Theology. (Original in the Archive of the University of Vienna)


The Insignia of the Collegium Poetarum et Mathematicorum, 1504/05

This is a wood-cut by Hans Burgmair (1504/05). The "College of Poets and Mathematicians", of which the great humanist Konrad Celtis was principal until his death, was founded by the Emperor Maximilian I and had the right to "crown" poets. After Celtis' death the insignia were kept in the chest that bore his name; of the objects shown here only the the silver seal mould has survived. (Photo from the Archive of University of Vienna)


Konrad Celtis and Albrecht Dürer.

Here we see the two friends Konrad Celtis and Albrecht Dürer in a section of Dürer's painting The Tortures of 10,000 Christians (Museum of the History of Art in Vienna).


Johannes Cuspinianus (Spießhaymer), 1473-1529.

After studies in Leipzig and Würzburg this famous Humanist, originally from Spießheim near Schweinfurt in Franconia, came to Vienna in 1492 and was honoured by Maximilian I with the poet's laurel wreath. As a scientist and an historian of the Habsburg dynasty he was one of the leading lights of scholarship in Vienna and was also a successful imperial diplomat. In this capacity he played a major role in the realisation of the Habsburg-Jagellonian marriage plans at the Vienna Congress of Princes in 1515. In 1500 he was Rector of the University of Vienna and subsequently Royal Superintendent until his death in 1529. (Original engraving in the Archive of the University of Vienna)


Wolfgang Lazius (Laz), 1514-1565.

Lazius was one of the most versatile humanists in Vienna and was later viewed as a "central figure in the cultural life of Vienna". He had originally studied liberal arts in Ingolstadt and in 1538 obtained a doctorate in medicine. He was personal physician to the Emperor Ferdinand I and from 1546 taught at the Faculty of Medicine in Vienna. He became Rector in 1560 and Royal Superintendent in 1563. But he is best known as an historian, particularly on account of his History of Vienna (Vienna Austriae) and his widely used book on the great Migrations (De gentium aliquot migrationibus) and as a cartographer, with maps of Bavaria, Hungary, Greece and Austria. In 1561 he published the first printed atlas of Austria. (Original engraving in the Archive of the University of Vienna)


"Caesarean Section" (in fact a laparotomy) conducted by Mathias Cornax, 1549

The Viennese physician Mathias Cornax was in charge of the performance of a "Caesarean section" operation in 1549. This operation, recorded in pictures and text, was the first of its kind to be performed on a living woman, whose child incidentally had already long been dead. The patient survived the operation that was fully documented by Cornax. (Original woodcut in the Library of the University of Vienna, MS 698)


Leonhard Villinus (Höfler, d. 1567), giving a lecture

The effects of the Reformation were particularly serious for the Faculty of Theology, that had had very few students from the 1520s onwards. The theologian Villinus, originally from Leibnitz in Styria, kept the faculty alive almost single-handedly for several decades. After the middle of the 16th century two chairs in theology were occupied by Jesuits. (Print in the Archive of the University of Vienna)