TWO EMPIRES, ONE PUBLISHER: TWO MONUMENTAL BOOKS IN THE WOLFSONIAN-FIU LIBRARY

Some few months past, The Wolfsonian-FIU’s Senior Development Director, Michael Hughes, brought a VIP visitor to the museum library just before leading a group on a tour of our World War I centennial anniversary exhibition, Myth + Machine: The First World War in Visual Culture. Austrian aficionado Devrin Weiss had asked to stop off in the library first in order to drop off a rather hefty gift: a 25 pound tome celebrating the sixtieth anniversary of the reign of Emperor Franz Joseph in 1908. As I unwrapped the package and we began flipping through the beautifully ornamented pages, I was immediately struck with a déjà vu-like sensation. The library had the previous day hosted another group of visitors, and still lying on the main library table was another heavy tome with strikingly similar decorative motifs. This other volume, however, was dedicated to the German Emperor, Wilhelm II and had been published in 1912–just two years before the outbreak of the First World War that indelibly sullied the Kaiser’s reputation (and ultimately brought down his dynasty and empire). As we turned the pages in unison, Mr. Weiss and I were amazed by just how closely the German book followed the patterns in the Austrian tome. As we have just completed the digitization of the Austrian work donated by Mr. Weiss, I thought I would ask Associate Librarian Nicolae Harsanyi, a specialist in Eastern European history and culture, to share with our readers a glimpse into these two Art Nouveau masterpieces. Here is his report: 

On December 1st, 1912, at the age of 49, Max Herzig succumbed to pneumonia in Vienna. Who was this awardee of the Iron Crown Order and of the Franz Joseph Order? Why is this sponsor of the Vienna Künstlerhaus and Secession important for our library collection at the Wolfsonian-FIU? The answer lies on the shelves in the back stacks of our rare book and special collections library. In our section of oversized holdings, we now have two of the master works of the publishing trade, monumental books produced at the beginning of the twentieth century in Central Europe, bearing the imprint of his name. A propos monumental books, the old line from one of Horace’s odes comes to my mind: Exegi monumentum aere perennius (I have raised a monument more permanent than bronze). Who were being celebrated with these books? The overt response appears in the dedication to the two crowned heads reigning in Germany and Austria, emperors Wilhelm II and Franz Joseph I.

Not long ago, Devrin Weiss, an enthusiastic collector of Habsburg memorabilia and keen supporter of the Wolfsonian, donated a massive elephant folio-sized volume. Published in 1908 by Max Herzig, the tome commemorates the 60th year of Franz Joseph’s reign. Bound in red cloth, the book has a central embedded panel on its front cover which displays a bold gilt stamped design of the Austrian crown.

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GIFT OF DEVRIN WEISS

Titled An Ehren und Siegen reich: Bilder au Oesterreichs Geschichte (Rich in honor and victories: pictures from the history of Austria) the book is introduced by elaborately colored plates, and is profusely illustrated with black-and-white reproductions of various moments in the history of the House of Habsburg. The decorative elements were designed by Heinrich Lefler (1863-1919), Joseph Urban (1872-1933), Joh. Jos. Tautenhayn, Ludwig Huber and Rudolf von Larisch (1856-1934).

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GIFT OF DEVRIN WEISS

A gallery of all the Habsburg monarchs until 1908 decorates the front and back paste-downs of the book.

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GIFT OF DEVRIN WEISS

The memorial book described above were similar in design to those in a similar volume which Max Herzig originally published in 1904, Deutsche Gedenkhalle (German memorial hall) celebrating the glory of Emperor Wilhelm II. The Wolfsonian library has the second edition of this tome, which was produced in 1912, also under the guidance of Max Herzig. This immense volume of German history and remembrances was illustrated with monumental full-page color illustrations by (among others) Heinrich Lefler and Joseph Urban.

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The historicizing design of the page layout as well as that of the decorations is strikingly similar to the volume about Austrian history.

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There are a few noteworthy difference as well as similarities. The border decoration used in the Deutsche Gedenkhalle uses a floral motif associated with Germany (the oak leaf) and the paste-downs are decorated with the coat-of-arms of the provinces that united to form pre-World War I Germany.

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Today the two empires celebrated in these books belong to the past, but the Art Nouveau artistry of the books produced by Max Herzig survives to this day.

~ by "The Chief" on July 10, 2015.

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