Connected Central European Worlds, 1500-1700

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The Collected Tools of Elector Augustus of Saxony: Modelling Saxon Work, Industry and Materials through Aesthetic Utility

Andrew Biedermann, University of Oxford

My research addresses Elector Augustus of Saxony’s (r. 1553-1586) Dresden-based collection of tools and how it expanded his understanding of Saxony’s potential to harness nature through work and intellect. This early Kunstkammer, or cabinet of curiosities, remains unique in its focus upon objects of science and technology, particularly its almost 10,000 tools, including gardening utensils, surgical knives and mining implements.

Augustus was a practical ruler and one who devoted much of his long reign to mapping his domain and cultivating mining, forestry and agricultural industries in Saxony. His ventures as a ruler and patron were often mirrored by his own activities as a practitioner; of experimental gardening, alchemy, and surveying among numerous other disciplines. Simply stated, the serious study of the mechanical arts was deeply integrated with the ruling of Saxony.

In this short presentation I hope to discuss why a prince became fixated by the objects of manual labour and give finer definition to the terms ‘tool’ and ‘instrument’ as well as their corresponding cultures of work. The diversity of the collection will help me unite those with interests in the histories of technology, science, and art, as well as the studies of court culture, collecting, and work.


Andrew Biedermann is a second-year DPhil student at Oxford, where he studies the histories of science and technology, with a particular focus on the collection of tools and scientific instruments amassed by August, Elector of Saxony (r. 1553-1586). Both his bachelor’s (Trinity College, Hartford CT) and master’s (University of St Andrews) degrees were in the history of art, which established several of his core academic interests, being the history of collecting, courtly science, early modern ingenuity, and early modern material culture. His doctoral research, which is supervised by Howard Hotson (Faculty of History) and Stephen Johnston (History of Science Museum), is therefore indebted to both the history of art and the histories of science and technology, which he hopes to fuse to gain a better understanding of how cultures of learning and making interacted throughout the early modern period.