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Augustus of Saxony (1526-1586).

Augustus was born in Freiberg, the younger son of Heinrich the Pious, Duke of Saxony. He was brought up Lutheran and received a good education at the University of Leipzig. Augustus's elder brother Moritz inherited the dukedom on Henry's death, but he and Augustus remained friends. When Moritz died in 1553, Augustus became elector of Saxony at the age of 27.

As a ruler Augustus was a good economist, politically cautious and a wise governor. He improved roads, regulated coinage, benefitted agriculture and architecture, and established a comprehensive body of law regulating the church, the universities and the police. He was also covetous and superstitious.

The Habsburg family had begun a Kunstkammer in Vienna by 1550, though nothing is now known of its contents. Augustus's own Kunstkammer in Dresden is believed to have been founded in 1560. By the time of his death 26 years later it had grown to over 10,000 items of all kinds. Augustus enlarged the electoral collection of coins and medals, and the century-old silver collection which already included specimens of native silver among the silverware and silver art objects. He founded an armory, established an Anatomie-Kammer exhibiting human and animal skeletons, medical specimens and fossils, and also a famous library. Together with the Kunstkammer they formed a coordinated system of collections.

The Kunstkammer consisted of seven rooms on the fourth floor of the western wing of the Residenz, directly over the electoral living rooms. There was a decline in general importance of the objects throughout the sequence of rooms. In the first and most interesting room Augustus kept his most precious specimens, such as a Colombian emerald matrix studded with manually implanted crystals of emerald (now in the Green Vaults in Dresden) and his favorite carved rock crystal ball. (Other items of precious and semi-precious stones were kept separately in the treasury and not in the Kunstkammer.) Only a few other items of naturalia were exhibited in the first room.

His most voluminous holdings, almost three-quarters of his entire collection, consisted of tools and instruments laid out according to the crafts and professions for which they were made. Cabinet-making, locksmithing, gardening, gunsmithing, gunnery, hunting, fishing, printing, mathematics and geometry, goldsmithing, sculpting, surgery and especially geodesy were among the many occupations represented.

Scientific instruments of all kinds were an important part of the electoral Kunstkammer: 442 quadrants, spheres, globes, compasses, astrolabes, clocks, hourglasses and measuring instruments of all kinds. Considering the enormous and unique assemblage of tools and instruments which Augustus brought together, his Kunstkammer was decidedly different from every other at that time and for many years to come. It can be thought of instead as the forerunner of the modern scientific technical museum.

The Kunstkammer also included a collection of Saxon minerals. The Electorate of Saxony was at that time twice the size of what in the 19th century became the Kingdom of Saxony. Saxony owned the most extensive industrial complex in Europe, fed by rich deposits of silver, copper, antimony, cobalt, tin, iron and bismuth. Saxony was also rich in semi-precious stones: agate, jasper, amethyst, garnet, opal, topaz and smoky quartz. These materials were a natural focus for the elector's collection.

Augustus's mineral specimens were kept, for the most part, in the fifth room of the Kunstkammer, which also housed the bulk of his library. The inventory of 1587 records specimens of marble, serpentine, jasper, amethyst, and a variety of unspecified species (listed only by their colors . . . "1 red stone . . . 1 green stone . . . 1 white stone . . ." etc.) from localities such as Zwickau, Chemnitz, Annaberg, Harzdorf and Schneeberg. Many of them were apparently supplied to him by an Italian lapidary, Giovanni Maria Nosseni, who ran a successful business collecting, cutting and polishing Saxon marble and semi-precious stones under a privilege granted by Augustus. Also included was a meteorite which fell in Thuringia in 1581, and, remarkably, a set of what we would today call crystal models (cubes, octahedrons, icosahedrons, dodecahedrons, pyramids and other geometrical shapes cut from wood), although no concept of crystallography yet existed.

Taken as a whole, Augustus's minerals did not amount to a particularly outstanding collection, and were not comparable quantitatively to Ferdinand's collection at Schloss Ambras in Tyrol. But they formed the foundation upon which generations of Saxon electors ultimately built an extensive and very significant collection, today preserved in the Museum for Mineralogy and Geology in Dresden.
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Title Annotation:The History of Mineral Collecting: 1530-1799
Author:Wilson, Wendell E.
Publication:The Mineralogical Record
Article Type:Biography
Date:Nov 1, 1994
Words:729
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