JOHANN WEIKHARD von VALVASORSlovenian by homeland,
European by spirit –

After 20 years of living on Bogenšperk castle, Valvasor left an extremely important scientific and artistic legacy not just for Slovenians, but Europeans as well.


Valvasor's family

The noble family of Valvasor originates from Bergamo in northern Italy. The first to establish the family Valvasor in the Duchy of Carniola was Johann Baptist Valvasor, who came to Carniola in the 16th century from Telgate. Back then the role of the main country town of Ljubljana was a transit market between the European East and Italian lands. Johann Baptist soon became a rich merchant and in 1547 even a Ljubljana citizen, which meant the beginning of a steep rise on the social scale in the land of Carniola. He died childless and most of his wealth was inherited by his nephews as well as his namesake, Hieronim Valvasor, who was not directly blood related to him. Due to faithful service and the preservation of the name in Carniola, Hieronim inherited the Medija Castle and its estate in 1581. The castle became the family castle of the »new« Valvasors. In 1632, Hieronim's son, Jernej, married Ana Marija, born Ravbar, from Krumperk castle near Domžale. She bore him 17 children, among which the 12th child was Johan Weikhard von Valvasor.

Valvasor’s childhood and youth

Johan Weikhard von Valvasor was born in 1641 in Ljubljana, where he was baptized on 28th May that same year. His father Jernej was the main treasurer of the Carniolan estates and a regional councilor. He spent his childhood on family estates of Gamberk and Medija near Izlake. In the time of his father's death in 1652, the young Johann started visiting school at the Jesuit secondary school in Ljubljana, where he perfected his knowledge about humanistic studies. The young boy was also raised by Johann Ludwig Schönleben, who later influenced his greatest work.

After graduating from the Jesuit secondary school, where he received a good basis for becoming a scientist and ethnographer, Valvasor decided to gain some more knowledge and experience by serving the army and traveling abroad. With short pauses he kept traveling for 14 years of his life, which made him a cosmopolitan. His acquired military skills brought him a military career, something most noblemen of that time considered a priority. He visited his homeland rarely and only for a short time.

During his travels he »conquered« practically the whole Western Europe - Germany, the Netherlands, Great Britain, Spain - and a part of Africa. Being interested in different cultures and new discoveries, led him to visit a different continent (the present day territories of Tunisia and Libya).

When traveling, Valvasor reveals himself as a deeply religious man, who visits places of pilgrimage, is interested in alchemy, caves, history and natural sciences. He once wrote himself:

»Without boasting and conceited yearning for fame, I admit that curiosity and thirst for knowledge have always had a hold on me and encouraged me to explore natural rarities or secrets, by being a great admirer of all liberal and natural arts. No road was ever too long, no danger too big or effort too difficult not to travel wherever I came across a man eager to learn. The hope of learning about or discovering something extraordinary has always made everything sour taste sweet; not just in Europe, but also when I was traveling far and wide across Africa out of mere curiosity and in the hunt for knowledge of natural sciences. Many things I had to learn on my own this way. (The Glory of the Duchy of Carniola, volume 3, page 416 sl.)

Arrival to Bogenšperk

While being abroad, Valvasor realized little people know about his homeland Carniola. Therefore, he came up with an idea of returning home, creating a family and devoting himself to studying and researching his homeland in order of being able to later show it to foreigners in verbal and visual form. When he returned from his travels in 1872, he married Lady Ana Rosina Graffenweger von Graffenau from the Slatna castle near Šmartno pri Litiji. The couple bought the Bogenšperk, Črni potok and the already demolished Lihtenberk. They paid only a half of the purchase price, for the other half they remained indebted. Valvasor had 9 children with his first wife, at least 5 of them died at an early age. In the years that followed, an outstanding library grew at Bogenšperk Castle due to Valvasor's studies and researches of homeland. It stored a couple of thousand books and a graphic collection containing 8,000 graphic sheets of German, Dutch, Italian and local artists. In 1685 he thematically arranged and bound his graphic collection in 18 volumes of large format. In addition to graphic prints, he also used to collect various mathematical, cartographic and other instruments, old money, archeological object, minerals, rocks and other rare items. Bogenšperk soon became the first » museum« on Slovenian soil, typical for the collector’s rate at that time.

Establishing the Graphic Institution

When establishing the institution and its program, Valvasor was influenced by the German topographic painting. Because there were no printing institutions in Carniola that could prepare the visual material for his planned topographic works, he had to establish his own graphic workshop, copper-plate engraving and printing. »Without boasting, I was also the first who brought copper printing to this glorious Duchy of Carniola. In 1678 I made a workshop and maintained the copper-plate engravers and printers for several years at the Bogenšperk Castle. « (The Glory of the Duchy of Carniola, volume 11, page 620)

With the formation of the Graphic Institution, the first of its kind in the region, begins a new chapter in the history of graphic arts on our soil. Apart from topographic works, Valvasor also published graphic works of art, religious and educational belletristic works, but also planned to release science, geographic and history works. He gathered draftsmen and copper-plate engravers, German, Dutch and local masters, which under his leadership produced the necessary images and lived at Bogenšperk on his expenses until The Glory of the Duchy of Carniola was published in 1689. In his own workshop he was the organizer of work, the sponsor, contributor as well as the main designer. He did most of the drawings proposed for copperwork.

By 1682 the production in the printing company died away. There were two main reasons for that, the first one being financial. Financing such a big project was a bridge too far for Valvasor. The second reason was Schönleben's Carniola Antiqua et Nova, volume 1, from 1681, which gives a historical overview of Carniola up to the beginning of the second millennium. After his trip to Venice in 1679, Valvasor returned home one year later, being more serious about publishing The Glory of the Duchy of Carniola. On the 23th February 1680, he sent out letters to castle owners, towns, monasteries, with a clear intent of collecting descriptions, historical information, local sights and interesting facts. He received poor response. However, this did not ruin his plans of presenting foreigners his homeland.

The workshop was in business from 1678 to 1689. In 11 years of running a printery at Bogenšperk, Valvasor published 6 topographic and 3 art works, whereas the last two were published in Nuremberg, Germany.

First maps on Slovenian ground were drawn in the Bogenšperk workshop and were made under the hands of a local author (maps of Carniola, Carinthia and Croatia).

Valvasor's technical drawings and inventions

Valvasor's building plan for the Liobl pass also dates back to 1679, the times of his graphic workshop, when he was visiting Carinthia more often in order to prepare two topographic works about it. Sir Johann Valvasor was aware of the importance of the transport connection on the Carniolan – Carinthian provincial border, which was impassable during hard winters. Therefore, he created a building plan of both entrances that were located at the same height as two churches, each on one side of the pass. According to his notion, the pass was not built because of the plague epidemic in 1679. However, the reasons of a failed project were mainly financial and the fact that the author demanded his share of toll. Just how much he was ahead of his time is proven by the fact that this important pass in this area was not built until 1964.

Even though the building of the pass seemed too utopian to the authorities, this did not apply for St. Mary's column in Ljubljana. The latter was erected in gratitude for the victory over the Turks in 1664 and deliverance from plague in 1679; Ljubljana was the only main provincial town in the former Habsburg Empire that restrained this nuisance. Valvasor himself led the work, especially modeling and casting the statue of the column, where he invented his own casting process. A year later Valvasor was name captain of footsoldiers in the Lower Carniolan part. Due to military service in 1683, he had to interrupt his research work and as a captain headed to protect the eastern Styrian borders from Hungarians and Turks.

Member of the British Royal Society

The landmark year in life and work of Sir Johann Weikhard von Valvasor was definitely 1687. His first wife, Lady Ana Rosina, died while giving birth to his last son. Behind, she left 4 small children. Three months after her death, Valvasor married Baroness Ana Maksimila Zetschker from Vrhovo pod Gorjanci, who bore him 4 more children. One of the happiest events of 1687 was the official recognition award for his scientific work, which he experienced during his lifetime. By the end of the year, he became a member of the Royal Society in London, the oldest British science academy, established in 1660. The reason for contacting the society was the report on the Idrija mine and Lake Cerknica, which Valvasor came across in the book Acta Philosophica Societatis Regiae. He intensely researched the lake between 1684 and 1685. Therefore, he began a correspondence with Thomas Gale, Society's main secretary. To England, Valvasor was sending descriptions of casting thin-walled metal statues and discussion of the Lake Cerknica. Based on the last discussion, he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society, on 14th December 1687. This was an outstanding award and honor for Valvasor. The report and research were both published in Philosophical Transactions, London 1687, no. 191, and in Acta Eruditorium, Leipzig 1689 – two oldest and most important scientific journals of that time.

Last years

The costs of extensive scientific, collectable and publishing activities as well as unsettles debts for acquired estates were too high, therefore, Valvasor was forced to start selling his property in 1689. He was even separated from the library and his graphic collection, which were bought by the Archdiocese of Zagreb. After selling Bogenšperk in 1692, he moved with his family to a townhouse in Krško, where he died in 1693 at the age of 52. Due to lack of archival sources, the exact date of his death is unknown. Supposedly he was buried in Medija, in a family tomb in a chapel.

Valvasor’s descendants

The fact that Valvasor’s bloodline went extinct was proven wrong by Prof. Dr. Boris Golec. Valvasor had 13 children from two marriages. Before Prof. Golec's research we knew about only 11 of them. However, now we know about two more daughters, once already uncovered but again forgotten about. The most important was the discovery of Valvasor's last daughter, Regina Konstancija, whose bloodline still survives today. According to Dr. Golec, more than half of his children died in the early childhood, only six of them grew up. His three sons from his first marriage all became priests, while his three daughters married local noble widowers and their sons that lived in the wider area of Krško, where their father's life path came to an end.

In 2007 and while researching archives, noble family trees and handbooks as well as searching in the internet, Dr. Golec came across one of Valvasor's descendants, Egon Ehrlich (born 1931), a retired colonel of the Austrian army from Graz, but living in Vienna.

As the last living descendant of Valvasor, Egon Ehrlich together with his wife in 2007 visited Valvasor’s homeland and national trait. However, this year Ljubljana and Bogenšperk were visited by Georg Gilttler and his wife. More than 100 more relatives from all around Europe (from Austria, Italy, to Finland, North America) found out about their famous ancestor.


  • Branko, Reisp: Janez Vajkard Valvasor. Mladinska knjiga, Ljubljana 1983
  • Branko, Reisp: Janez Vajkard Valvasor. Zbirka Obrazi, Mladinska knjiga, Ljubljana 1983
  • Golec, Boris: Nova odkritja o Janezu Vajkardu Valvasorju in njegovem prezrtem potomstvu: predavanje na Bogenšperku, 15. junija 2007 : gradivo za lokalne vodnike, 2007
  • Vodnik po gradu Bogenšperk, Public Institute Bogenšperk, Bogenšperk 2004

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