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The Mining Book of Schwaz
The oldest German mining book
Vienna, Austrian National Library, Cod. Vindob. 10.852, Tyrol, 1556-1561

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Further Pictures

 

Great echo not least with art historians for its generous decoration with miniatures. Their significance as an excellent source for mining operations in Schwaz in Tyrol makes the manuscript a precious gem of European scientific literature.
With a total of 120 colourful miniatures to support the historic evidence of the text making it understandable to the reader, the Mining Book of Schwaz also provides an important illustrated source for experts in the humanities and natural sciences of the 16th century. It conveys and illustrates work and social events of everyday life in this period. The book further gives a comprehensive insight into the legal, economic, social and cultural aspects of mining in the 16th century.
The Mining Book of Schwaz contains a reflection on the legendary mines of Schwaz at the end of their heyday. The book was not printed and the few hand-written and illustrated copies were not intended for a wider public but for a small and exclusive circle of readers.

Schwaz, ”mother of all mines”

The town of Schwaz became celebrated in the 15th century for its rich silver and copper deposits. Due to its leading position in the mining business, it was called the ”mother of all mines”. When the Emperor Maximilian I came to the throne, Schwaz in Tyrol became the financial foundation for his ambitious undertakings. The inflow of miners rapidly turned this Tyrolean village into the community with the second largest population in Austria, after Vienna.
The Mining Book of Schwaz was made at a time when mining in Schwaz, after a hundred years of leadership in European metallurgy, had already passed its peak and was going through a major crisis. Written by a high ranking official of the regional mining authority, the Mining Book was probably made to serve a triple purpose: the first intention was to make the Emperor Ferdinand I familiar with his richest resource and to remind him of the role of mining for his economic and political interests. Second, it was intended as an incentive for new investors to buy shares, and third it was meant to provide a comprehensive overview of the legal and safety aspects of mining in preparation of the mining conference in 1557.

An invaluable source for the history of mining in Schwaz

These three aims are clearly outlined in this book, which is itself divided into four sections. The first section deals with the so-called mining orders. The mining regulations of that period were stricter than in modern times. They not only dealt with property rights and the mining inspectorate but also organised the operation of the mine, environmental, labour and social law, as well as special mining jurisdiction.
In the second comprehensive section the reader finds memorials on mining in general and on special matters, recommendations to the sovereign, instructions for different tasks as well as descriptions of the mining operations in Schwaz; further the duties of the mining official, as well as duties and remuneration of the miners.
The third section provides an illustrated encyclopaedia on mining, the oldest of its kind, including colourful illustrations of work in progress and equipment used as well as practice-oriented descriptions.
The fourth section is a compilation of the jurisdiction practice of the mining court in Schwaz, including important judgements, procedural instructions and remarks on how a miner had to appear before court.

The miniatures

Apart from the explanation of the Mining Law and a whole range of remarkable features illustrating the exploitation of the Schwaz deposits, the position of miners in society and their hierarchy, the intrinsic meaning of the accompanying text is of great value. The finely coloured pen and ink drawings illustrate the multiple mining tasks and give us a lively impression of the machinery and clothing of miners and the robes worn at court by high officials. The views of the exploited areas in the foldout illustrations are of eminent significance for topography, as they are the first illustrations of villages and mountainscapes ever made.
When compared to the famous mining textbook of Agricola (De re metallica libri XII, printed in 1556), which essentially describes the contemporary state of the art in mining technology, the Mining Book of Schwaz fascinates by its comprehensive illustration of mining in all its aspects and its colourful illustrations.

The commentary volume

The author of the scholarly commentary is Erich Egg from Innsbruck. He enlightens the historic background of the Mining Book of Schwaz and gives an extensive explanation of its contents. Observations on the author and the painter of the miniatures combine with a description of the aftermath of the Mining Book in the Speculum Metallorum, a compilation of diverse readings on mining practice. The facsimile edition is further complete with a transliteration of the text into modern German from the language of the high Middle Ages by Heinrich Winkelmann.

   
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