Sue Young Histories

Samuel Von Brukenthal 1721 - 1803

January 13, 2009

Samuel von Brukenthal 1721 - 1803 was an Austrian lawyer and governor of Transylvania for the Austrian monarchy. He was a baron of the Holy Roman Empire, and personal advisor of Empress Maria Theresa, the wife of Francis I of Austria.

His home, a large palace in Sibiu, is currently home to the Brukenthal National Museum

In 1777, Brukenthal was considered to be the richest man in Transylvania and Samuel Hahnemann was close to poverty at this time. Joseph Freiherr von Quarin introduced Brukenthal to Samuel Hahnemann, and he immediately offered Samuel Hahnemann a post as his physician, and an opportunity to access Brukenthal’s extensive library and to catalogue his library and his coin collection.

Brukenthal also introduced Samuel Hahnemann to Freemasonry and made him a member of his Lodge.

The Bruckenthal Museum - Samuel von Brukenthal originated in the German lesser nobility from Transylvania. He studied law, political administration and philosophy at the universities of Halle and Jena being trained up in the spirit of the European Enlightenment.

An appreciated scholar and a qualified diplomat, Brukenthal worked his way up at the Viennese Imperial Court and finally he became “aulic” chancellor of Transylvania. That was the time he made up his painting collection.

In 1773 it was mentioned in Almanach von Wien and considered as one of the most valuable private collections to be found in Vienna at that time. Sharing the interest in sciences of his time, Brukenthal collected rare books, numismatics, archaeological and mineral items as well.

Brukenthal got back to Sibiu as he was appointed governor of Transylvania and built up a palace in a late Baroque style on the model of the Viennese ones. The luxurious rooms of the palace, the art galleries and the printroom, the library, the musical evenings and literary soirée organized by Baron Samuel von Brukenthal represented a spiritual nucleus for Transylvania.

In an enlightened gesture, Brukenthal generously disposed the opening of the Palace, as a public museum in his last will…

There are few pieces of information regarding how the collections came into being, however certain notes of the Baron’s wife in the house register are preserved. The first recordings referring to the purchasing of paintings came up later, in 1770, at a date when the nucleus of the painting collection must have already been formed.

The few recordings allow us to reach the conclusion that the acquisitions in question were paid for, after all probabilities, from funds which did not enter the accounts, not from the household money, administered by the baron’s wife, Sophia von Brukenthal.

After his return to Sibiu as a governor, the Baron Samuel von Brukenthal brought his collections from Vienna into the town on the Cibin, but the arrangement of the gallery was delayed until 1787-1789.

The most competent persons to handle the classification and exhibition work were the painters Johann Martin Stock and Franz Neuhauser jr, who were close to the Baron. They contributed also to the identification of the unsigned works, as the preface of the first printed catalogue of the gallery, edited in 1844, tells us. In fact, the first catalogue, in manuscript, of the painting collection Älteste Katalog was elaborated by the painter Franz Neuhauser jr, being realised already during the Baron’s lifetime.

The inventory indicates a collection formed of 1,070 paintings and housed in 15 chambers on the second floor of the palace.

Outstanding personality of his time, Baron Samuel von Brukenthal conferred a democratic dimension to the Enlightenment thought of his era. The basic principle is the identity of this cultural space, its capacity to promote the multinational , plurilingual, intercultural and international cooperation (artistic, aesthetic, museographical, historical, sociological) starting from Brukenthal’s outstanding contribution and its actuality in modern aesthetic and historical education.

The Brukenthal Palace is one of the most remarkable monuments in late baroque style in Romania, Sibiu. It was erected between 1778-1788 as an official residence for Samuel von Brukenthal and as a shelter for his collections.

The Baroque halls - the old reception and music rooms of the Palace - on the first floor preserve the original canvas and silk wall, the Rococo and Neo-classical white stoves and 18th century Transylvanian marquetry furniture.

The Museum of History is run in a space which is representative for the local history of Sibiu: the former town hall. The building of the Old Town Hall (also known as the Altemberger House after the name of the mayor during whose mandate they started with the construction of the building) is the most important ensemble of Gothic lay architecture in Transylvania.

Also in the Bruckenthal Palace - The Museum of Pharmacology is located in an historical building dated 1569, where one of the oldest pharmacies in present-day Romania was located.It is the basement of this house where Samuel Hahnemann invented homeopathy and developed his version of treatment.

Some of his phials and plans are on display. The furniture is in Viennese style. The exhibition is organized on the structure of a classical pharmacy that includes two laboratories, a homeopathic sector and a documentation sector.

Also in the Bruckenthal Palace - The Pharmacy History Museum also boasts a rich homeopathy collection, including almost three thousand pieces, kits, jars and homeopathic products. Jars holding homeopathic products have labels specifying their origins, most of them from European towns.

When Samuel von Brukenthal was governor of Transylvania, the German doctor Samuel Hahnemann, the founder of homeopathy, took his practice to Sibiu…

Our permanent exhibition begins with the collections from the “Black Bear” Chemist’s, which includes a small office and a lab, homeopathy equipment and a research area. (The Pharmacy contains the Hahnemann Catalogue of the Library, much of it written in Hahnemann’s own handwriting).

This is from Peter Morrell’s Dream (Samuel Hahnemann speaking!):

I was very fortunate when medicine let me down in Vienna because Joseph Freiherr von Quarin came to my aid immediately. He understood my problems and arranged for me to spend some quiet time in Hermannstadt [Sibiu] to recover from my upset and to study in the Brukenthal Library, where I was employed to produce a new catalogue of the possessions, especially the coin collection.

“This task enabled me to study many subjects, to learn new languages, and to study prior medical systems often from their original texts, such as the works of Galen, Avicenna and Hippocrates, as well as many great philosophical writers contained in the magnificent surroundings of the library.

“I was also fortunate in that Joseph Freiherr von Quarin and Brukenthal both regarded me very highly as one of the most outstanding pupils in the Vienna medical school. I do not wish to boast, but they often told me that. I simply accepted their judgement.

“On reflection, I do not think I had the makings of a good doctor quite so much as being a good scholar who was energetic and willing to stay up all night as required in order to master any subject.

“As with my gift for languages, this was a gift I had been born with and which I had exercised as a child - devotion to hard work and study. Either way, the consequence of this was that Brukenthal and Joseph Freiherr von Quarin had kindly provided me with an opportunity to take time out of my medical studies for almost two years, solely because they regarded me as an exceptional pupil.

“I was very grateful for this. They did not make such provision for anyone else in the Vienna medical school, and so I have to conclude that they regarded me somehow as a special case.

“My time in Sibiu was certainly envisaged as a rest and recovery period and a time for me to reflect on my future. However, during this period I also had the opportunity to study many ancillary subjects and especially original medieval and Renaissance texts on alchemy, kabbala and magic, subjects I was not especially interested in per se, but which had been a very important thread in the history of European culture.

“I felt obliged to study them in that context. I always had a great desire to learn everything I could. Whether these ideas were truly relevant to my later studies is a debatable point.

“However, the immediate problem I had was to decide if and when I was going to make my return to Vienna and complete my medical education. I often felt the sensation of Joseph Freiherr von Quarin waiting for me to give the signal about when I would return.

“Increasingly, as time wore on, I became anxious about this matter and had more or less decided that I could not go back there and study under him.

“There were two reasons for this. Firstly, he had taken such trouble to kindly provide for me the time in Sibiu and for this I was very grateful, yet gnawing away at me were my doubts about medical practice and the methods he regarded as the best and most effective. These doubts made me even more worried about my indebtedness to him.

“Secondly, I could not find in any of the texts in Sibiu a better system of medicine and so my search there had in this respect been a complete failure.

“I became burdened by a sense of failure and the sense that I had let down both Brukenthal and Joseph Freiherr von Quarin, who had so kindly provided for me for almost two years. Thus, I left there somewhat like a scolded cat, creeping out so as not to be noticed.

“The easiest option for me was thus to spend a term of study at and submit a thesis to Erlangen and graduate that summer with the least possible fuss, hoping that nobody noticed. I felt that sense of guilt and failure towards Brukenthal and Joseph Freiherr von Quarin very acutely for some years. In truth, I could not face seeing them ever again, for fear of them being very angry with me for disappointing them so much and wasting their time after they had taken so much trouble to help me as their valued student.”

Samuel von Brukenthal was born in Leschkirch, located between Sibiu (germ. Hermannstadt) and  Agnetheln.

His father and grandfather occupied the office of bailiff of the king.

In 1724, the father of Brukenthal, Michael, of humble origin, was knighted in 1712 by Emperor Charles VI, in recognition of his loyal conduct during the war called Kuruc (uprising that took place in 1703 in Transylvania against the authority of the Habsburgs, the head of which was Prince Francis Rákóczi II), and since then was called “von Brukenthal.

His mother, Susanna, was born of noble family and highly regarded for “von Heydendorff”, belonging to the small Transylvanian nobility.

We know little about his first school, however, two school books that have been preserved indicate he had completed his studies at school around 1740. It is likely that he was taught privatly, as was customary at that time.

Samuel von Brukenthal inherited his father’s heritage of 867 guilders Rhine, that he resolved to engage in what seemed the best investment in training and in major studies. After completing his studies in college, took Brukenthal service in the chancery of gubernium of Transylvania in Sibiu/Hermannstadt, an employment he worked at for about two years from February 1741.

Then Brukenthal went to Halle (Saxony) in order to make studying law, then in Jena, but without managing to get a university degree. Moreover, for a senior career, which aspired Brukenthal, this title was not essential, a certificate attesting to conduct studies for sufficient.

The city of Halle was the center of pietism German. The ideas of the French Enlightenment and German also had a strong influence on Brukenthal. More specifically, it examines the history of Transylvania, classical antiquity, the history of art, natural sciences, literature in Greek and Latin classics.

Attending circles of the court in Berlin and joining the Masonic lodge in Magdeburg… Brukenthal succeeded at that time to establish important relationships, to ensure his spectacular climb higher. He erected the Masonic lodge, Hermannstadt the oldest in Eastern Europe, and assumed the presidency between 1773 and 1774.

In the summer of 1745, he returned to Hermannstadt and put his career in the service of the American nation (as it was customary to appoint people of German origin living in the Transylvanian plateau). Indeed, his motto was Fidem genusque Servabo (I serve my faith and my people’). This offered him an opportunity to enter the chancery of the Transylvanian gubernium.

A career in the nation presupposed that he had taken up residence in Sibiu/Hermannstadt and made his home there. Brukenthal met Sophie Katharina von Klockner, daughter of the mayor of Hermannstadt, whom he married in October 1745, shortly after his return to Transylvania. Brukenthal was now part of the Transylvanian establishment, which benefitted not only to his career as a director, but also his personal fortune, since the bride brought to the household about 30 000 guilders, in addition to various land and other property.

From 1745 to 1753, Brukenthal worked in relatively insignificant posts, as second and first clerk, and from 1751, as vice-notary (head office) of Hermannstadt magistrate. In 1753 he was offered a unique opportunity to travel to Vienna, where he was well received by the Empress Maria Theresa.

Brukenthal was able to bring forward a claim for Saxony and Sicula to obtain Secretariats at the heart of government, and managed to become employed within them. Brukenthal defended the interests of his people with dedication.

The Empress Maria Theresa named him a Baron in 1762, and he became President of the Court of Chancery in 1765, Chancellor in 1772, and finally, in 1777, Governor of Transylvania.

It was in Vienna that he formed his collections (paintings, prints, medals and coins) and a valuable library, which he would later pass on to the University. Appointed governor of Transylvania, he returned to settle in Sibiu/Hermannstadt and, from 1785, built a palace on the Grande Place (Großer Ring, Piata Mare).

His income amounted, in his early career, 150-300 guilders annually, those committed to his role as secretary of gubernium already amounted to 2 000 guilders, and those committed to his role as chancellor provincial 7 900 guilders and his salary as president of the Chancery Court of Transylvania reached 9 900 guilders, and as governor 24 000 guilders.

After his resignation from the post to which he was forced by Joseph II, with whom he had fallen into disgrace, he was allocated a pension. His estate was, in his death, estimated at about one million guilders - the value of his art collection and books are not taken into account.

Since his stay in Vienna, already famous because of his art collection, Brukenthal ws regarded as being the second richest man in the Austrian Empire.

Already during his student years, he had been a collector of books and art. Over the years, he came to spend up to ten per cent of his revenue to purchase books and objets d’art. He had purchased objects throughout Europe (Vienna, Paris, the Netherlands, England, Germany, Italy, Hungary) through a network of art dealers and booksellers.

Thus he acquired many important reference works and sources of knowledge, such as the Encyclopedia of Diderot, the Städtebilder (views of cities) by Merian, Weltchronik of the Schedel, etc. When the secularization of church property came on the art market, from convents and monasteries, many valuable manuscripts and incunabula were also ourchased.

His collection of images included 1300 paintings, including one third of the Flemish masters, and 800 prints and his library contained a great many rare volumes. Brukenthal employed, as was the practice then in the media and wealthy bibliophiles, his own craft bookbinders who, using leather, linking each book in a style of its own time (baroque, rococo), doraient slice, adorning the back and stamped on the binding arms of the owner.

The first librarian, according to the Scientific, who cataloged the collection from 1777 to 1789  was Samuel Hahnemann, who later founded homeopathy.

Towards the end of his life, Brukenthal desired an orderly succession to prevent his collections being destroyed or dispersed. Brukenthal worked to prepare a detailed test, which provided that only a male descendant of the family could be the main heir; if there was no male offspring, the collections should be referred to a foundation that belonged to the evangelical college Hermannstadt.

An amount of 36 000 guilders - a little more than his wife had given as dowry to marry - whose interests must be used to pay the salaries of lasting several librarians, appariteurs and support staff, in addition, will set a sum of 800 guilders to the progressive enrichment of the library, as well as 400 guilders to increase the collection of paintings. Brukenthal also made available a sum of 8 000 guilders to hire at the evangelical school, a master of drawing, “in order to raise the level of art education”.

In 1867, Baron Joseph von Brukenthal, one of the heirs to the Brukenthal palace (which had become in 1817 a Museum of public access), came into funds from the foundation. When the ultimate male successor, Baron Hermann von Brukenthal, died in 1872, the direct line ended and the college was finally able to collect legatee inheritance, even if it soon had to sell it to Romanian State under the communist regime.

Today, the museum Brukenthal is no longer a “museum Saxon”, but a Romanian National Museum. It continues to house most of the legacy of Brukenthal, although some works of art acquired by him, are at present

  • against their wills - exhibited in other museums…


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