A Unique View of Saxony’s Silver Mines

Who says you can’t go Baroque from mining?

Mappa Geographica Circuli Metalliferi Electoratus Saxoniae cum omnibus quae in eo comprehenduntur Praefecturis et Dynastiis quales sunt.  (Augsburg:  Mattaeus Seutter, 174-).  Copperplate engraving on two separate sheets, with water color wash.  Scale ca. 1:10,250,000.  Geography and Map Division.  Germany – Saxony – [174-] – no scale -- M. Seutter

Mappa Geographica Circuli Metalliferi Electoratus Saxoniae cum omnibus quae in eo comprehenduntur Praefecturis et Dynastiis quales sunt.  (Augsburg:  Mattaeus Seutter, 174-).  Copperplate engraving on two separate sheets, with water color wash.  Scale ca. 1:10,250,000.  Geography and Map Division.  Germany – Saxony – [174-] – 1:10,250,000 — M. Seutter

On the contrary, many European regions, states, and principalities owed their prosperity to mining.  Among them was the Electorate of Saxony, long a state of the former Holy Roman Empire.  Saxony’s Ore Mountains, or Erzgebirge, were particularly blessed with silver, serving as one of its main sources until cheaper supplies from the Spanish New World forced the mines to close.

Silver, being a chief source of wealth for the provincial nobility, fostered the cultural development of the Saxon capital, Dresden.  Before its destruction in World War II, the city was renowned for its landmark palaces, churches, museums, and gardens emblematic of the Baroque style.

This nineteenth century map of Dresden includes a border illustrating several of Dresden’s architectural treasures. Plan von Dresden.  (S.l., S.n.).  Lithographic print.  Geography and Map Division.  Hauslab-Lichtenstein Collection, folio 16, no. 105.

This nineteenth century map of Dresden includes a border illustrating several of Dresden’s architectural treasures. Plan von Dresden.  (S.l., S.n.).  Lithographic print.  Geography and Map Division.  Hauslab-Lichtenstein Collection, folio 16, no. 105.

The Baroque era was also a high-water mark in the development of ornate cartouches and vignettes that illustrated major subjects, themes, and personalities associated with places on maps, particularly those published in the Netherlands and Germany.  Contemporaneous maps of the state of Saxony proved no exception, especially in their aesthetic elements, which both pleased and informed, and which further allowed for a wider expression of artistic design.

This particular map was printed in Augsburg by publisher Mattaeus Seutter and engraved by his son-in-law, Tobias Conrad Lotter.   Seutter, like his Nuremberg competitor, John Baptist Homann, kept geographic innovation in his maps to a minimum but enhanced their sales value by adding elaborate cartouches, lively vignetttes, pompous titles, lengthy dedications, and striking color wash.  In the fashion of his contemporaries, he uses the map’s cartouche to advertise blatantly his ambitions, in this case as imperial geographer to Frederick Augustus II, simultaneously King of Poland and Elector of Saxony.

Engravers like Lotter often drew inspiration from illustrations found in “pattern books” to add a sometimes complex arrangement of pictorial details.  In the words of one historian, the animated figures in this map were “based on similar engravings in Christoph Weigel’s illustrated booklet portraying mining officials and their attendants.”  Weigel’s pamphlet, entitled Icones omnium ad Rem Metallicum spectantium Officialum et Operariorum/Bildnisse aller Berg- Beambten und Bedienten, was published in Nuremberg  around 1721.  It opens to a drawing of a deputy mine surveyor shouldering a tray of minerals and a pickaxe.

This same figure appears in the lower left corner of Seutter’s map, and is seen approaching three others:  a mine director and a merchant, portrayed as haggling over a potential consignment of silver ore, and a smelter. Nearby, nestled against an acanthus, is a medallion featuring a crossed hammer and chisel, while scattered about are tools of the miner’s trade, which are copied directly from the title page of Weigel’s booklet.

In the case of this map, however, the author/engraver has combined depictions of actual characters with figures from classical mythology. Our eyes gravitate to the curious vignette in the upper left-hand corner.

The scene combines real and supernatural elements in its depiction of silver production. According to one authority, the decorative rocaille framing the text serves as a transitional device that leads from the earthly world, with its miners transporting ore, to the realm of the gods, who are engaged in fluxing and smelting the silver:  putti convey ore to Vulcan, the god of fire, who places a crucible in a raging stone furnace; winged Zephyr fans the flames with his breath; and an anonymous female deity turns a small pit excavator.

Demanding greater scrutiny is the large exquisitely-drawn vignette occupying the map’s lower right hand corner.   The dramatic cut-away of a hillside reveals a scene recreating the various activities of working in a silver mine.

A string of miners, operating by torchlight, excavate the rock in a segmented shaft; two miners operate a winch retrieving a bucket of ore from an auxiliary tunnel; miners holding torches ascend to the surface between shifts; above the large shaft to the right, a waterwheel powers the main lift used in hoisting ore; and the buildings on the surface likely depict a tunnel entrance, a shaft tower, and a hammer mill.

In the foreground four miners pose with their work implements; the two on the right appear to rest following their shift, while one gestures towards the pair seemingly approaching their days’ work.  Equally significant we see carefully arranged wooden beams throughout the mine lending it support, whereas just outside the mine’s entrance there is a pile of lumber and a saw mill that provide the necessary materials.

Finally, the dense foliage and rocky landscape suggest the ruggedness of the Erzgebirge, while the dark tonality overall seems to emulate the world of the miners.

The map itself, though colorful, is unremarkable for its era; it contains the usual complement of geographic features of place names, towns, roads, rivers, and pictorial representation of vegetation.  The various prefectures and dynasties are numbered and identified in the title cartouche, and distinguished by water color wash in either rouge, violet, green, or yellow, as well as by absence of color.

At the top of the map, nonetheless, a handsome theodolite, used to survey the landscape, illustrates the primary substance of the cartographer’s craft.

More often than not, maps regard place.  They may also publicize the satisfaction that derives from provincial prosperity, which can be an outgrowth of geographic advantage.   Today, tourists follow the Saxon-Bohemian Silver Mines Route through the Erzgebirge, not in search of mineral wealth, but to engage with the rich cultural iconography and landscape connected with the mines.

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