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History of the Natural History Museum

History of the Natural History Museum

© Marcel Peda

There has been a so-called 'Musaeum' in Admont Abbey since Baroque times although we know little for certain about what it originally contained. It can be assumed, however, that it would have conformed to the practices of the era and would thus have held all sorts of rare and curious items in addition to the natural history objects.

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Early in the 19th century, Abbot Gotthard Kuglmayr (reigned 1788 - 1818) acquired several collections: a collection of minerals, a xylotheque (a collection of forest flora in book form) and various herbarium collections. In 1809, Abbot Gotthard subsequently added a selection of ethnological and archaeological specimens to these to form his 'Cabinet of Curiosities'.

This 'Cabinet' also housed a physics and chemistry laboratory that was used for teaching purposes and the 'Universe', a work by the Baroque sculptor Josef Stammel (1695 - 1765). This was a roughly 4-metre high group of carvings that, with its wealth of figures and reliefs, represented a 'microcosm' of the world of human activities.

The Abbey fire

The 'Cabinet of Curiosities' fell victim to the 'Great Fire' of Admont in 1865 resulting in the loss of most of its holdings, including Stammel’s 'Universe'. A 20-year old monk called Gabriel Strobl entered Admont Abbey a year after the fire. He was commissioned by Abbot Karlmann Hieber (reigned 1861 - 1868) to rebuild the Natural History Museum.

nhm 29Father Strobl dedicated 44 years of his life ‒ until he suffered a stroke in 1910 ‒ to this undertaking. In the first 12 years, he devoted himself principally to botany, before focussing completely on insect research (entomology) for the following 32 years.

By means of his own collecting activities, but also through exchange with other collectors around the world, purchases and bequests, Father Gabriel Strobl managed to amass an extraordinary collection. It was due to the remarkable efforts of Father Strobl that the museum had almost completed its holdings by 1906 and its doors were thrown open to the general public.

Despite all the adversities of the Nazi period and the subsequent war years to 1949, the then curator of the Natural History Museum, Hans Kiefer, managed to preserve the collection in its entirety. His principle concern was ensuring the return of the collection to Admont Abbey ‒ during the war years, it had been transferred to the Joanneum Museum in Graz.

Günter Morge, who succeeded him as curator, continued to press for the return of the collection and eventually prevailed so that almost all the surviving items held in Graz were restored to Admont in the years 1966 - 1972.

During the conversion work and reorganisation of the museum environment at Admont Abbey, the rooms of the Natural History Museum were also renovated, being officially reopened on 2 May 2004.

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