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Unknown Photographer of the k.k. Hof- und Staatsdruckerei
Parts of the Viennese fortification wall, Rotenturmtor and Gonzagabastei
Austria, Vienna, March 1858
Saltprint from glass negative, 37 x 50,7 cm
Oval blindstamp in the image lower right „VON DER k.k. HOF-& STAATSDRUCKEREI IN WIEN”

Originally devoted to the production of bank notes, forms and legal texts, the imperial printing press (k.k. Hof- und Staatsdruckerei) in Vienna developed into a „polygraphic institute” under the ambitious leadership of Alois Auer during the 1840s. It combined new techniques of publishing, typography and printing and manufactured a broad range of products. Following its educational mission the institution devoted itself to research as well as the publication of its findings.

Photography became an independent division in 1850. Photographers like Paul Pretsch, Leopold Weiß or Joseph Puchberger worked there with box and panorama cameras but also dealt with micrographic projects. Their findings received awards during the world expo in London. Especially the large formats were presented to great acclaim. From March 1858 they documented the demolition of the baroque fortifications of Vienna. The broad wall complete with 8 gates and 10 bastions was a popular promenade for the Viennese population during the 19th century. After the demolition, Ringstraße and its magnificent buildings were constructed in the walls former place.

This photograph was taken shortly before the beginning of the demolition works. It shows the Gonzaga bastion and the Elendsbastion: the latter is situated in the background on the right, slightly concealed by the cottonwood trees of the Glacis, the first can be seen in the foreground and was positioned close to today’s location of Morzinplatz. The wide panoramic view was enabled by a shot from a high vantage point. The image illustrates Auer’s ambition of a photographic appropriation of the world, as he enunciated it in his writings.

The part of the wall shown in the image was only little later turned into the Franz Josefs Kai. In the foreground the street is leading from the Rotenturm gate on the street to the right, to Ferdinandbridge today known as Schwedenbridge leading over the Danube canal which is already lying outside of the picture. A police man is standing on the outermost part of the wall, before him there is a builder with some pieces of wood. Here a barrier is being built (well documented in images taken in the following months). On the horizon we can discover the tower and the apsis of the church Maria am Gestade, to the right a row of newly built houses outside of the inner city boundaries, todays 9th district next to the Schottenring.

The incisive long building next to the wall, with its narrow side brightened by rays of sunlight parallel to the image, is the „Müllersche Gebäude” (demolished in 1889). This building was home to the art cabinet of count Deym with high value replicas of sculptures from antiquity, real size wax figures as well as music machines. The exuberant display of the pieces was very popular and the replicas were available for sale. This institution, established by an aristocrat, fulfilled an ideal that was similar to Auer’s vision for the k.k. Hof- und Staatsdruckerei developing into a media enterprise: The connection of providing entertainment, education and at the same time advertising ones products. In terms of media history these kind of cabinets and their artefacts soon became obsolete, whereas the climax of the spreading of the photographic image was about to come.

Marie Röbl, © WestLicht

Lit.: Wien in zeitgenössischen Photographien, ed. by Helfried Seemann, Christian Lunzer, Vienna 1995, ill. 36; Monika Faber, Maren Gröning, Stadtpanoramen. Fotografien der k.k. Hof- und Staatsdruckerei 1850–1860, Vienna 2005, p. 81 (ill.).