Cartographic work of Janez Vajkard Valvasor

Written by Branko Rojc, 1989


The author discusses and evaluates the cartographic work of J. W. Valvasor. The significance of his cartography, however, can be assessed only in the context of the developmental stage of cartography, and of political, national and cultural circumstances in the Europe of his era.

A short survey of European cartography of the 16th and 17th centuries is presented. At that time, cartography was still strongly under the influence of the Ptolemaic system. Among leading authorities on cartography were Ortelius and Mercator.

Germany in those times saw the rapid growth of the putting-out system and of cartography in Nuremberg, Cologne, and Vienna. This was the beginning of slightly more accurate and detailed regional maps. It was then that the Slovene provinces of that time were first presented, in more detail, on maps by the Viennese humanist W. Lazius.

Mercator’s map Karstia, Carniola, Histria et Windorum Marchia was copied by M. Merian, the author of a famed collection of topographies of German (and European) provinces. It was Merian who encouraged the scholar J. W. Valvasor to undertake his life’s work Die Ehre dess Hertzogthums Crain. Since the purpose of this book was to present his homeland to people abroad, with all its natural beauties and wonders, its people and customs, Valvasor also produced a geographical map of Carniola. This was not his only cartographic work. At the castIe of Bogenšperk, where he established the first graphic workshop in Slovenia of that time in 1678, he and his skilled collaborators produced a number of other maps: a geographic and historical map of Carniola for CarnioIi antiqua et nova by J. L. Schönleben, a map of Carinthia and a map of Croatia, topographical maps of Bela Krajina and of Lake Cerknica, maps of the five charted regions of Carniola, possibly his own maps of Carinthian Carniola and of Croatia, and plans of Roman Emona, of the cave of Podpeč, and of the mechanism of Lake Cerknica.

Valvasor designed the maps with the help of certain cartographic source materials but mainly used data obtained from his own investigations, observations and measurements in the field. The examination and measurement of Lake Cerknica were his special achievements, on the strength of which he was elected to membership in the Royal Society in London.

The author also presents arguments against Markovič’s claim that the map of Camiola is a copy of the map by Mercator, and proves that it is Valvasor’s own work.

Valvasor’s maps are then analyzed as to their content, methods of presentation, symbols, type faces, and mathematical base. The initial meridian is determined and reasons for considerable distortions in his maps are explained.

The author also examines the position of the geometrical centre of Camiola. Valvasor determined it to be at Bloke, using the method of gravity centre determination on homogeneous surface, as established by experiment. The centre as determined on a modem map differs from that established by Valvasor only by 10 km.

Finally, the technique of production and reproduction of maps at Bogenšperk, i. e., the production of copper engravings and typography, is described. The complicated and inevitably inaccurate transfer of a drawing onto copperplate and the labourious task of backwards cutting into the copper arc considered major drawbacks of copper engravings, whereas its advantages are fine, sharp lines.

These maps were the first maps of the Slovene provinces of that time by a local author. Valvasor examined the content of maps produced until then and supplemented them with new data obtained from his own measurements. This aspect was his major contribution to Slovene cartography. His maps were referred to by cartographers for some decades.

His research work on Lake Cerknica was unique for Europe of his age, the plan of the Podpeč cave is among the oldest of this kind in the world, and the plan of Roman Emona is Slovenia’s oldest archaeological map.

His diverse topographical and cartographical activities, his graphic workshop, and his organizational abilities make Valvasor one of the leading European cartographers of his era and one of the outstanding personalities of Slovenia.