Curatorial Departments

The collections of the Weltmuseum Wien comprise nearly 536.000 objects from all over the world.

Sub-Saharan Africa

Sub-Saharan Africa

The collection encompasses ca. 37,000 objects and reflects the cultural diversity of Africa from the Sahel to the southernmost tip of the continent, from Muslim Senegal in the west to Christian Ethiopia and the island of Madagascar in the east. Among the highlights of the collection are exceptional bronzes and ivory objects from the Benin Kingdom, 16th century African-Portuguese ivory carvings, and the substantial East Africa collection.

The objects document the traditions of ruling groups, such as the kingdom of Benin in present-day Nigeria, the kingdom of Bamum in the grasslands of Cameroon, and the Ethiopian Empire. They also tell of everyday life, economic forms, religious beliefs, and the artistic production of many of the continent’s ethnic groups.

Most of the objects entered the collection before 1918, and thus represent historical conditions. They not only tell of past African realities, but also of their transfer to Europe in the context of the colonial appropriation of the continent.

First objects from Africa
The earliest African objects to reach Austria were documented in the Chamber of Art at Ambras Castle in 1596, and entered the ethnographic collection of the Imperial and Royal Natural History Museum in 1880/81. These were delicate, so-called African-Portuguese ivory carvings, produced during the 16th century in Sierra Leone and on the Benin coast for the European market.

The Benin Kingdom
The best known artefacts in the collection are the bronzes and ivory objects from the Benin Kingdom. The exceptional artworks are products of a court culture, and were a privilege of the ruling class. Both the empire and art of Benin flourished in the 16th and 17th centuries. Since the late 15th century, the Benin Kingdom was engaged in intensive trade relations with the Europeans, beginning with the Portuguese and followed by the English, Dutch, and French. After the capital of the West African empire was destroyed by British forces in 1897, the artistic treasures were dispersed throughout the world. The curator of the ethnographic department at the time, Franz Heger, recognised the importance of the works and strove to acquire several objects for the Viennese collection. He succeeded in securing patrons from the wealthy bourgeoisie and aristocracy for the purchase of a representative collection of so-called “Benin antiquities.”

“Voyages of discovery” in the 19th century
The greater part of the African inventory at the Weltmuseum Wien entered the then ethnographic collection in the second half of the 19th century, corresponding to the period of the so-called “voyages of discovery” in Africa and the age of colonisation. Although Austria-Hungary itself was not a colonial power, there were citizens of the imperial and royal monarchy who undertook various missions to Africa, in part for non-Austrian employers. Austrians worked as administrative officials in Egyptian Sudan, others were active in various functions for the Congo Free State under the Belgian King Leopold, or for the German colonial administration in East Africa. Some were situated in Africa in the diplomatic service of the Danube monarchy, others privately, as entrepreneurs, or adventurers. The curator Franz Heger always tried to acquire objects from those Austrians active in Africa, and animated them to assemble collections for the Museum. Less important in scope but historically interesting are the collections of the Imperial and Royal Navy, which used its land visits during exercise voyages to acquire material for domestic museums. Altogether, 215 collections of African objects were registered in the inventory of the ethnographic collection between 1862 and 1910. Most of these objects come from the Congo, south-eastern Sudan, and East Africa, a lesser number from South and West Africa.

Focus Congo
Objects from the Congo region form an important group in the Africa collection. A significant portion, ca. 660 object numbers, was obtained in the course of the Austrian Congo expedition (1885–1886) by Oskar Lenz and Oscar Baumann. Further important collections came from Janko Mikich (Mikic), a Croatian imperial and royal lieutenant who was active in the Congo area from 1882(?) to 1885 for the “Association Internationale pour L’Exploration et la Civilisation de L’Afrique Centrale”, and from Franz Thonner, a wealthy “private scholar” who conducted two journeys in the northern region of the Congo colony (1896 and 1909). Josef Chavanne, an Austrian scientist who first performed geographic investigations for the Belgian Geography Institute in 1884 and established a plantation for a Belgian trading house in 1885, also sent extensive collections to the Museum. Several significant objects were acquired from the German Leo Frobenius, as from the Hungarian Emil Torday, long active in the Congo, who cooperated with the British Museum carrying out targeted ethnographic research, and assembled collections under their mandate. Valuable objects that had already been shown in colonial exhibitions in France were donated from a functionary of the French maritime ministry. The Austrians named here were active in the Congo at a moment when the entire territory was already marked by the influences of intensive trade with the Europeans and the first colonial ambitions.

South Africa
Emil Holub is certainly the most luminous figure among the collectors whom we thank for the early holdings from South Africa. The physician Emil Holub first set foot on South African soil in 1872, and was stationed in the diamond fields at Kimberley as a doctor until 1879. From Kimberley, undertook numerous research expeditions into the still independent north, to the Thlaping, Kora, Rolong, Ngwato and into the Lozi Empire (which Holub called “Marutse-Mabunda”) in the region of current-day Zambia. During a second South African sojourn from 1883 to 1887, Holub journeyed through the Lozi Empire to the Tonga and the Ila (“Maschukulumbe”).

Aside from Holub, other individuals who travelled to the cape territory for professional reasons brought objects with them as well. We know only little of most of these people except for their names. Rudolf Malcher, a Moravian by birth, emigrated to King William’s Town in South Africa and founded a trading company in 1862. After 23 years, he returned to Austria in 1885; his extensive Zulu collection entered the museum through his heirs in 1971.

East Africa
The East Africa holdings derive from early “research travellers” such as Oscar Baumann or “explorers” such as Ludwig von Höhnel; with the Hungarian Count Samuel Teleki, the latter was the first European to reach Lake Rudolf (present-day Lake Turkana) and the meanwhile dry Lake Stephanie, and named them after members of the Austrian royal family. Merchants and missionaries such as Günther Säuberlich also assembled extensive collections.

In 1888 Oscar Baumann, companion and topographer of the German explorer Hans Meyer, undertook an expedition to the German protectorate to investigate Usambara, the northernmost region of Tanzania, and to climb Mount Kilimanjaro. The journey had to be called off, as they were surprised by a rebellion against the German colonists, and both travellers were taken as prisoners. In order to complete the geographic exploration, Baumann once again undertook an expedition to Usambara for the German East Africa Society, and another to Mwanza on Lake Victoria as well as to Rwanda commissioned by the German Antislavery Committee from 1891 to 1893. Alfred Sigl, a native Austrian (born 1854 in Vienna, died 1905 in Weimar), of which the Museum has a total of 1,800 objects, entered into the service of the German East African Society in 1887, and served in various administrative functions until the year 1900.

Austria’s first contacts with Egyptian Sudan took place in 1835, as the Pasha of Egypt, Mehmed Ali, invited Austrian mining experts to Sudan. In 1850, Emperor Franz Joseph authorised the establishment of an Austrian consul in Khartoum. Numerous Austrians active at the consulate assembled natural history or ethnographic collections during their service. The collections of the first two consular officials, Konstantin Reitz and Josef Natterer, are among the oldest African objects at the Museum. Further holdings come from Martin Hansal (1823–1885), from the zoologist Ernst Marno (1844–1883), and several items from Baron Rudolf Carl von Slatin, the best known of the Austrian travellers to Sudan. Numerous missionaries who had reached Sudan by the middle of the 19th century and dedicated themselves to Christianisation as well as combating the slave trade also returned with collections. The painter Richard Buchta was active in Sudan as a draughtsman and photographer, accompanying the German governor of Equatoria, Emin Pasha, on multiple expeditions, among others to the Bunyoro Kingdom (Uganda) and the region of Azande settlement; he, too, brought back objects.

Twentieth century
In the 20th century, it was primarily scholars who kept collecting for the Museum during their fieldwork in Africa. Of particular note are Rudolf Pöch who travelled to the Kalahari in South Africa from 1907 to 1908, and Father Paul Schebesta who conducted his research in the Ituri region of the Congo in 1934/35 on assignment from Father Wilhelm Schmidt. In the 1960-70s, then director of the Africa department, Annemarie Schweeger-Hefel, worked among the Kurumba people on masks and the art of northern Burkina Faso over many years, thereby assembling an exceptional collection.

+ 43 1 534 30-5052

Insular Southeast Asia

Insular Southeast Asia

The Insular Southeast Asia Collection that comprises objects from the Nicobar and the Andaman Islands as well as states of Malaysia, Brunei, Singapore, Indonesia, Timor Leste, and the Philippines. Today Indonesia is the largest Muslim country in the world. While Malaysia and Brunei have Islam as their official religion, the majority of people in the Philippines and Timor Leste are Catholic. The Nicobar and the Andaman Islands are part of the territory of India, and only accessible to a limited extent.

Insular Southeast Asia is characterised by two exceptional, historical developments: one the one hand, the coastal regions have been shaped by “international” contacts and their repercussions for centuries, while numerous ethnic groups live in remote locations in the interior on the other hand. It is these contrasts that have resulted in a particularly diverse region that is highly appealing not only to experts.

In 2017, the Insular Southeast Asia Collection comprises a total of ca. 19,603 objects. The two oldest artefacts can be traced back to the Chamber of Art of Emperor Rudolf II (1607-1611): a wayang klitik figure (wooden puppet), and a kris (dagger). The inventory of the collection has been continuously growing since the mid-19th century until today. 

Many objects came into possession of the Museum from collectors in the military of the 19th century, e.g. army doctors or officers. Even at that time, it was deemed important to document a culture in systematic fashion, which meant assembling a “coherent” collection of objects from various areas of everyday and religious life. This goal was accomplished, for example, by Dr. Frantisek Czurda, a Bohemian army doctor in the service of the Dutch crown in Dutch East India, today’s Indonesia, between 1876 and 1886. In the course of his service, he was relocated several times and could explore a few islands of Indonesia (Sumatra, Java, Sulawesi). Out of Dr. Czurda’s Indonesia Collection of 1,100 objects, ca. 850 are today found at the Weltmuseum Wien, the remaining 250 at the Náprstek Museum Prague. Dr. Czurda described his collection in great detail in his “Catalogue of a Private Ethnographic  Collection” – one of the first ethnographic catalogues in the world – which published in 1883. It is one of the world’s most comprehensive collections on the island of Celebes (today Sulawesi).    

Another remarkable element worth mentioning is the excellent Batak Collection of Karl Maschmeyer (ca. 362 objects, 1900) who not only added the indigenous names to the objects, but also documented them in Batak script. A collection from Borneo was assembled by Felix Isidor Baczes (ca. 383 objects, 1887) who stated, “that my collection comprises almost everything related to the way of life of the Dayak both at home and outside.”

Aside from the systematic collections, the Museum received a multitude of ethnographic objects from expeditions of the Imperial and Royal Monarchy, including the expeditions of the ships “Aurora” and “Novara” as well as the ram cruiser “Kaiserin Elisabeth”, which Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria-Este used for his voyage around the world in 1892/1893. The successor to the throne arrived in Ambon, Maluku Islands, the Dutch resident Baron van Hoëvell (1848-1920) presented him with an outstanding collection (ca. 800 objects) as a gift. This category also includes the collections of the two Austrians, Linda Bandara-Hofland (ca. 170 objects, 1962) and Helene Potjewijd (ca. 710 objects, 1946). Both women were Indonesia enthusiasts and added carefully selected objects to the Museum. While the composer Linda Bandara-Hofland had collected numerous beautiful and old batik cloths, Helene Potjewijd assembled a wide range of Balinese artwork.

According to the current acquisition strategy, the Museum seeks to add contemporary objects on the issues of “marriage”, “China diaspora”, “batik”, and “toys” to the collection.

Exhibition Catalogue 2013
Danced Creation
€ 29.95€ 7.95

ad interim Mag. Reinhard Blumauer
+43 1 534 30 – 5107



North Africa, West and Central Asia, Siberia

North Africa, West and Central Asia, Siberia

With its inventory of nearly 25,000 objects, the North Africa, Middle East, Central Asia and Siberia Collection at the Weltmuseum Wien ranks among the world’s most important collections pertaining to the everyday culture and characteristic objects of the respective region. The objectives that determined the collecting strategy of this department over the past decades are reflected in the individual areas of the collection.

One major goal during the second half of the 20th century was to systematically and selectively document Oriental craftsmanship throughout the ages, while another was to cover the symbolic forms in which folk piety was expressed in the four great monotheistic religions of the Middle East (Zoroastrianism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam). This approach meant that only very few, if any, objects were documented and collected as “artwork”, most being instead acquired and studied in their historical, socioeconomic and cultural contexts. The by now mainly historical collections cover everyday culture in the Maghreb, Egypt, Anatolia, Iran, and Afghanistan during the 19th and 20th century, as well as the material culture of the so-called “small-numbered indigenous peoples” of the Russian Far East around 1900.

The collection’s oldest entries date back to the year 1804. This small core inventory experienced successive expansion at the beginning of the 19th century thanks to the collecting activities of researchers and amateur ethnologists, such as Karl Alexander Anselm von Hügel (1795–1870) who collected numerous ethnographic items in places including Syria, South Yemen and Iran on his voyage of circumnavigation between 1831 and 1836. In 1880 and 1881, the anthropological-ethnographic department of the Imperial and Royal Court Museum of Natural History was entrusted with parts of the famous Ambras Collection, including several objects from Nubia, which had been collected by Filippo Agnello on site in 1804, as well as collections attributed to other members of the House of Habsburg, including ethnographic objects of exceptional value from the Islamic world. Between 1881 and 1891, Franz Heger (1853–1931), head of the anthropological-ethnographic department as of 1884, conducted several collecting journeys that took him to Russia, Georgia, and today’s Uzbekistan. Between 1884 and 1892, Josef Troll (1844–1919), a representative of Vienna’s wealthy bourgeoisie, brought back over 1,100 ethnographic objects from his four extended trips to Asia – Turkey, Syria, Iran, Iraq, Uzbekistan, and southern Siberia – which found their way into the Oriental collections of the Museum.

The lion’s share of the Northern Eurasia Collection was acquired between 1881 and 1911. Alongside the small Sami Collection, there is the extensive Siberian Collection donated by the German-Russian entrepreneurs Adolph Traugott Dattan and Adolf Wasiljewitsch Dattan (1854–1924), a collection which impressively documents the everyday culture, economic life, rituals, and religion of the so-called “small-numbered indigenous peoples” of the Russian Far East.

Targeted academic collecting and documentation activities only began in 1902, when Wilhelm Hein (1861–1903) together with his wife Marie conducted ethnographic and linguistic research in Qishn, southern Yemen, among the Mahra tribe. Thanks to this Mahra Collection, the Weltmuseum Wien is the only museum in the world to possess the entire repertoire of specifically Mahra objects in one place, thus documenting a group which, despite its simplicity, is both highly diverse and unique in its cultural-historical context.

When the Ethnographic Department was removed from the Museum of Natural History and became an independent Museum of Ethnology in the Imperial Palace’s [Hofburg] Corps the Logis in 1927, North Africa was one of the regions that had been hardly or not at all documented. Nevertheless, there been early acquisitions, such as the faience objects from Morocco, ceramics of the Kabyle people of northern Algeria, textiles interwoven with gold and silver from Tunisia, Upper Egyptian ceramics, and smoking pipe bowls as well as all kinds of hollow vessels in a mixed historical-Egyptian style from the period before World War I. During the 1930s, the ethnologists Julia Humann-Wagner-Jauregg and Ludwig Gustav Alois Zöhrer began putting together a small Touareg Collection from scratch. This collection was expanded by the ethnologist and art historian Gertraud Bogner who added metalworking devices, amulets, and jewellery in 1981. A systematic enlargement of the collection on the popular culture of Egypt was only initiated in 1973 thanks to the collaboration between the ethnologist and jewellery expert Peter W. Schienerl (1940–2001) and the department head of the time, Alfred Janata (1933–1993). In addition to the ethnographic objects (which had been either purchased from merchants and craftsmen in Cairo as well as other places in Egypt, or collected during field research in the oases of Siwa, Fayyum, Bahriyya as well as on the Sinai Peninsula), Islamic, Jewish and Coptic religious objects also entered the collection. The Siwa Collection was complemented by contributions from the Swiss collector Bettina Leopoldo in the late 1980s.

In 1979 under the university assistant Josef Salat (1947–1985), students from the Department of Ethnology at the University of Vienna began putting together a collection on Turkish craftsmanship. At the same time, Werner Finke and Markus De Zordo spent several years, mostly for the Museum of Ethnology, documenting traditional crafts from the Istanbul region and the popular culture of Anatolia, including the material culture of the Kurds of eastern Anatolia and the Yörük nomads.

The early 1980s saw the compilation of an entirely new collection of Oriental Jewish artefacts. While Western Jewish craftsmanship is well documented in Jewish museums, this collection seems to be one of the very few in Europe to recognise products of Oriental Jewish popular culture as an independent area of collecting.

In the early 1960s, the Museum received its first high-quality and extensive collection from Afghanistan thanks to Ludwig G. A. Zöhrer. Alfred Janata, for the most part working together with his wife Irmgard, expanded the Viennese Afghanistan Collection in the years that followed. A prominent position in this collection is dedicated to everyday items and textile products of the western Afghan Chahar Aimak people, tools and products of Tajik craftsmen, and objects of daily life of the sedentary and nomadic Pashtuns from the country’s south-eastern province of Paktya. In the 1970s, a small Nuristan Collection was put together with the help of art historian and ethnologist Max Klimburg. In 1977, the textile expert Wilfried Stanzer acquired a yurt of the Zai Reza Firuzkuhi for the Museum. During the 1970s and 1980s, objects from the Afghanistan Collection were among the Museum’s more frequently exhibited pieces. In the year 2003, the special exhibition “Afghanistan” at the then Museum of Ethnology provided insight into the history and special character of the collection in Vienna.

Exhibition Catalogue 2018
Veiled, Unveiled! The Headscarf
€ 32.00

Exhibition Catalogue 2008
Straps and Bands
€ 35.00€ 7.95

Dr. des. Tobias Mörike
+43 1 534 30- 5030


North and Central America

North and Central America

The collection offers an overview of the indigenous cultures of Central and North America from pre-Columbian times and the colonial period to the present. Probably the best-known object of the collection is the renowned Mexican feather headdress. Among the other areas of concentrations are large archaeological collections from Mexico, Costa Rica, and Panama, textile collections from Guatemala, Mexico and Panama, and remarkable early objects from northern regions, e.g. artefacts from the Great Lakes, from the Northwest Coast collected by James Cook, and from Greenland.

The archaeological collections from the eastern United States, Mesoamerica, and Central America form the majority of the regional inventory. The Arctic Collection comprises largely ethnographic objects. The holdings from North America north of the Rio Grande include both archaeological and ethnographic objects.

Both individual objects and specific sections of the collection enjoy international popularity. While the objects were acquired through purchases, donations, or exchanges, the collectors can be categorised into various groups as well: many affiliates of the House of Habsburg, but also members of the diplomatic corps, acquired objects or received these as gifts. Other artefacts were acquired via exchanges with domestic or foreign museums. Cultural patrons, geologists, mineralogists, zoologists, and scholars of other disciplines collected ethnographic objects as by-products of their expeditions, as did travellers who brought back souvenirs, and not least private collectors. In the 20th century, scientifically trained ethnologists became the primary source of collected objects.  

The first American object registered in the Museum’s inventory is a Pacific Eskimo basket. The collection was acquired at an auction of the Parkinson Museum in London in 1806, and includes American artefacts, primarily from the Pacific Northwest Coast, that James Cook collected in the course of his travels.    

Karl Ludwig Giesecke expanded the early Arctic Collection with objects from Greenland, which he presented to the Court Ethnographic Collection of Emperor Franz I in 1818. His collection comprised Inuit ethnographic and archaeological artefacts including equipment and clothing, but also boat and kayak models made for trade.

As a young man, the Viennese fur trader Johann Georg Schwarz travelled to the United States and Canada. By 1820, he had already begun to collect objects from the Great Lakes area. As the decline or even demise of the American Indians was presumed in the 19th century, particular value was attributed to the Schwarz Collection. Schwarz also took part in the transfer of the Plains Ojibwa Collection of fur dealer Joseph Klinger to Vienna. These objects are today considered the oldest preserved Plains Ojibwa artefacts worldwide. The paintings restorer Martin Pitzer likewise assembled a collection of ethnographic objects from the Great Lakes area around 1850.

Probably the best-known object, not only in the collection but the entire Museum, is the Mesoamerican feather headdress, which entered the Chamber of Art and Curiosities of Ambras Castle in the 16th century, and has virtually become a public icon the Museum. Other objects of so-called Mexican featherwork include a feather shield and a feather fan, both produced in the period of the conquest of Mexico, as well as feather images with Christian themes from the colonial period.

The Museum possesses significant archaeological material from Mexico, thanks largely to two collectors: Dominik Bilimek who collected during the second Mexican Empire of Emperor Maximilian of Mexico, and Philipp J. Becker, a merchant from Darmstadt. More recent textiles and ethnographic objects were added to the archaeological collection.

Exhibition Catalogue 2012
Der Altmexikanische Federkopfschmuck
€ 19.90€ 14.95

Quetzal Feather Headdress
€ 6.95

Gerard van Bussel
+43 1 534 30 – 5122


East Asia: China, Korea, Japan

East Asia: China, Korea, Japan

In the year 2017, the East Asia Collection with its objects from China, Korea, and Japan comprises ca. 28,500 objects, 15,000 of which are from just one country: Japan. While almost 12,000 artefacts were collected in the cultural region of China, the small collection of ca. 1,500 objects on Korea was primarily assembled in the late 19th century. The focus of the collection is on objects of daily life from these regions. As the greater part of the collection was compiled in the 19th century, it is an important witness of cultural history as well as a fundamental document of economic history.

The collection also features exceptional artistic objects from Japan, such as the throne screen from the Qing dynasty, Qianlong period ( 1736 - 1795 ), or the house model of a daimyō residence presented at the Vienna World’s Fair in 1873.

The earliest object listed in the collection is a Chinese glass armlet imitating jade. It was part of the Parkinson Collection of Sir Ashton Lever. As part of the Cook Collection, few artefacts of this collection were acquired for the imperial family at an auction in London in 1806. One of the focus areas of the collection are artistic and ethnographic objects from Japan, not least due to the collection of Heinrich von Siebold, which has been at the Weltmuseum Wien as a donation to the ethnographic-anthropological department of the Imperial and Royal Court Museum of Natural History (Museum of Ethnology as of 1928) since 1888, and encompasses 5,315 objects. Moreover, no less than the heir to the throne, Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria-Este, contributed to this Japanese emphasis, assembling numerous valuable objects on his voyage of circumnavigation in 1892/1893. Among the highlights of his collection are gigaku masks that were believed to originate in the 8th or 9th century for more than 100 years. According to more recent research, the masks, were given the status of national treasures in Japan, are copies made in the 19th century. The collection also includes objects of the Ainu and Ryûkyû people.   

In the 1960s, the period of Japan’s industrialisation, japanologists and ethnologists collected artefacts of traditional folk culture as well as agricultural objects. They are already considered important historical documents.

The collections on China were not assembled in such homogenous manner. The earliest holdings from China and Korea derive from 19th century voyages around the world or from consular collections. Most objects were collected in the large cities of the coastal region and cover the southwest and northwest of China. A few years ago, the Museum was able to acquire an extensive collection on the personality cult of Mao Zedong from the time of the cultural revolution (1966 – 1976).  In the course of the exhibition of shamanism of 1998/99, a Korean shamanist altar was acquired.

Exhibition Catalogue 2013
Danced Creation
€ 29.95€ 7.95

Dr. Bettina Zorn
+43 1 534 30 – 5117


Oceania and Australia

Oceania and Australia

Some 30,000 objects tell of the everyday and ritual worlds in Polynesia, Melanesia, Micronesia, and Australia: feather objects from Hawaii that James Cook collected on his journeys, Maori artefacts from New Zealand, an ornamental shield decorated with nautilus shells from the Solomon Islands, extensive collections from New Guinea, and Australian boomerangs, dot paintings, and didgeridoos – to name but a few examples.

The objects document the outstanding technical abilities and artistic achievements of the Pacific inhabitants, as well as their exceptional creativity in fashioning living spaces, social organisations, and world views. Boatbuilding, architecture, clothing, and objects of daily use as well as valuables and ritual artefacts strikingly illustrate regional traditions, yet also material innovation and cultural reform emerging through external influences, exchange and trade relations, colonisation and missionizing, wars and conquests, national resistance movements, and political independence.

The tireless passion for collecting of European world travellers, naturalists, colonial officials, missionaries, doctors, diplomats, and patrons of the arts, but also the innovative scientific spirit and the impressive findings of Austrian social and cultural anthropologists are reflected in the Pacific collections. Many objects document Pacific culture at the time when contact was first established with Europe until the present, and as carriers of meaning have high scholarly value.

One of the oldest ethnographic collections of the Weltmuseum Wien derives from the expeditions of the British seafarer James Cook (1728–1779); a total of 238 objects were acquired at a museum auction in London in 1806.

From 1877 to 1889, the Austrian naturalist Andreas Reischek (1845–1902) explored New Zealand. His collection encompasses 467 Maori artefacts that are significant from the perspective of cultural history.

Austria’s first voyage around the world, on the frigate Novara (1857–1859), expanded the Museum’s inventory by 130 objects from the South Seas, of which an ornamental shield from the Solomon Islands decorated with nautilus shells has found worldwide regard.

A meticulously documented collection of 1,600 objects from Melanesia and Micronesia was added by the German zoologist and ethnologist Otto Finsch (1839–1917).

Around 2,000 objects from the South Pacific were assembled on the world tour of the cruiser “Kaiserin Elisabeth” (1892–1893), in which Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria-Este took part.

The Viennese doctor and anthropologist Rudolf Pöch (1870–1921) returned from a research expedition to New Guinea (1904–1906) with 3,800 ethnographic objects and extensive audio, photo, and film material. He was entrusted with the professorship in Anthropology and Ethnography at the University of Vienna in 1919.

Numerous research stays between 1969 and 1992 enabled the Viennese ethnologist and curator Hanns Peter (1931–1993) to significantly expand the Museum’s inventory on New Guinea and Australia. The Australia Collection contains 860 objects altogether, including many different forms of throwing sticks and boomerangs, spear throwers, shields, clubs, carrying vessels, clapsticks, and didgeridoos as well as contemporary bark and dot paintings.

ad interim Mag. Reinhard Blumauer
+43 1 534 30 – 5107


South America

South America

The South America Collection contains over 18,000 ethnographic and archaeological objects from all countries of the continent: from the northernmost Colombia to the deep south of Argentina and Chile. Also the countries bordering the Caribbean, such as Venezuela, Guyana, Suriname, and the French overseas department French Guiana are part of the collecting area.

The objects impressively mirror the cultural diversity of the South American continent. They document history and tell stories: of the era before the arrival of the Europeans in the Andes, of Amazonia’s mythical primeval period, of the relations between American Indian cultures, and the colonial appropriation of the continent by the Europeans: of continuity and change, growth and loss.

Ethnographic objects
In 2017, the South America Collection contains more than 18,000 inventory numbers. The approximately 400 collections entered the Museum through specific purchases, donations, exchanges with other museums, or bequests, and reflect the collecting strategies of various periods. The collections arising from natural historical expeditions are typical of the 19th century: among the most important is the collection of the zoologist Johann Natterer who took part in the 1817 Austrian expedition to Brazil, which was organised on the occasion of the marriage between Archduchess Leopoldine of Austria and Crown Prince Dom Pedro of Brazil and Portugal. Natterer remained in Brazil for 18 years, travelling throughout the country. His collection with 2,147 object numbers is the largest cohesive collection from South America. Moreover, it is the world’s most important ethnographic collection on Brazil’s indigenous peoples of the early 19th century. It includes extensive holdings from the Bororo, Sateré-Mawé, Tikuna, Tukano, Baniwa, Makushí, and Munduruku, among others, as well as rare feather objects from the Parintintin, Caripunas, and Apiacás.

This early beginning laid the foundation for a focus on the “South American lowlands”, which even was further expanded by well-known researchers, such as Robert H. Schomburgk, Franz Steindachner and Richard Payer, in the 19th century. Of particular importance is the 1907 acquisition of the collection of Baroness Loreto from the 1880s: she catalogued 1,343 archaeological and ethnographic objects from various regions in Brazil and the neighbouring countries (including items from the Bororo, Jivaro, Sateré-Mawé, Tikuna, Tukano, Xiriana, and Yuracaré). Exceptional individual pieces also entered the collection during the 19th century, for example, three objects from the Chamber of Art at Ambras Castle in Tirol: a club and an anchor axe from the Tupinambá in Brazil, and a tobacco pipe from Paraguay. Equally notable is a back ornament adorned with feathers from the Wayana, one of a group of objects that came to Vienna in 1806 from the sale of the Parkinson Museum.

In the 20thcentury, the Museum’s primary concern was to fill the “gaps on the map”, that is, to acquire objects from groups that were hardly or not at all represented in the inventory. Here, the collections of Wanda Hanke should be distinguished, which for the Ashluslay and the Lengua encompass nearly their entire material cultural heritage. Further important and interesting collections come from the natives of Tierra del Fuego (acquisitions of Hagenbeck 1880 and Martin Gusinde 1927), from the Guaná and Chamacoco (Boggiani bequest, 1906), the Karajá (bequest of Mario Baldi, 1957), the Makuna (acquisitions of Fritz Trupp and Wolfgang Ptak, 1972), the Saamaka (collecting trip by Claudia Augustat, 2005) the Yanomami (acquisitions of Eibl-Eibesfeldt, 2006), and the Tukano (acquisitions of Andreas Kowalski and Michael Kraus, 2006).

In the field of folk art, two former collection directors played a fundamental role in the development of the holdings. Etta Becker-Donner (Director of the South America Collection, 1945-75) collected over 1,200 objects, which primarily document the folk culture of the Andes countries. Peter Kann (Director of the South America Collection, 1975-1999) largely collected in the areas of folk culture and ethnography in Argentina, Paraguay, Bolivia, and Peru.

Archaeological objects
Although the archaeological collection is by far less significant than the ethnographic one, it also includes important holdings, such as 27 objects collected by Karl von Scherzer during the voyage around the world of the Austrian frigate Novara between 1857 and 1859, as well as ceramics and textiles from the Inca, Chimú, and Chancay cultures stemming from Christian Krüger, the Austro-Hungarian consul general in Lima. The collection acquired from Wilhelm Eckhardt in 1882 is of particular interest, as here the original site of the find for nearly all of the objects is recorded: numerous metal objects and textiles from Ancon, Chillon, Arica, and Pachacamac. A quipu from Ancon is likewise of particular note, as are numerous wooden objects. Eckhardt was further able to acquire a unique Amahuaca feather ornament ensemble.

The current collection policy seeks to expand existing holdings, and thus to enable the research and representation of cultures in chronological depth.

Dr. Claudia Augustat
+43 1 534 30 – 5113


South Asia, Southeast Asia, Himalayas

South Asia, Southeast Asia, Himalayas

The borders of this enormous area are formed by Sri Lanka in the south, Mongolia in the north, Vietnam in the east, and Pakistan in the west. Indian musical instruments, figures from the Vietnamese water puppet theatre, Khmer statues, Taoist painting, Buddha statues from Thailand, Naga headhunting trophies – these are but a few examples from the collection numbering more than 30,000 objects.

The objects relate how people saw their gods, organised their societies, their place in society, how they transformed their lands into fruitful fields, used the products of their animals, what clothes they wore, how they enjoyed their free time, and how they  waged wars. Depending on the viewpoint and the context, the same object can tell very different stories.

The collection has been continuously growing ever since the first objects were added to the then anthropological collection of the Natural History Museum in 1839. The most important contributions, to name only a few, were provided by Sourindro Mohun Tagore with his Indian musical instruments, Richard Teschner with marionettes from Southeast Asia, Christoph Schneller with Taoist paintings from Thailand, Helmut Ploog with Khmer statues, Alfred Raquez who covered the inventory of Laos with his 1,640 objects, Carl Bock with exceptional Thai Buddhas, and the Austrian heir to the throne, Franz Ferdinand of Austria-Este, with thousands of objects.

What route do objects take in their transformation from cultural artefacts to museum objects? This question cannot be answered without taking into account the collector, and is addressed here using three examples: the aristocrat Carl Alexander Anselm Freiherr von Hügel who embarked on a long journey to India because of private interest, the entomologist Hans Leder who developed an interest in the Mongolian pantheon, and the ethnologist Christoph von Fürer-Haimendorf who assembled a collection of Naga objects by working with the British colonial administration in India.

Carl Alexander Anselm Freiherrvon Hügel
The first objects from India came into possession of the Museum from Carl Alexander Anselm Freiherr von Hügel, and with 441 inventory numbers formed the nucleus of the India collection. Hügel reached Mumbai, the starting point of his long sojourn in India, in 1832. He is supposed to have been the first European to cross India from the southernmost point to its northernmost border. On this journey, he collected botanical and zoological objects, but also ethnographic artefacts. The variety of the objects indicates that Hügel followed neither a system nor a specific ethnographic interest in the organisation of his collection. It seems that he was rather guided by his personal taste and interests. As a representative of the educated European aristocracy, he was always closer to both the local rulers and the British colonial powers than to the rural populace. Everyday objects are thus only scarcely represented. The focus of Hügel’s collecting activities lay in the areas of weapons, jewellery, and religion.

Hans Leder
Hans Leder formed the core of the Tibetan Buddhism collections in the years 1899/1900, 1902, and finally 1904/1905 in Mongolia. Although Leder was sent to Mongolia with the task of collecting insects, his interest shifted from beetles to Mongolian culture through his close contact with the residents, whereby his primary interest lay in everyday religious practice. The collection of 824 objects offers a rare and comprehensive picture of religious and ritual art at the turn of the century, and gives insight into the iconography of the Mongolian pantheon.

Christoph von Fürer-Haimendorf
The change to ethnographically-based collecting began with Christoph von Fürer-Haimendorf (1909–1995). Good contacts to the British colonial administration in India enabled him to conduct thirteen months of field research among the Naga in the years 1936 and 1937. During this journey, he assembled a collection of 889 objects. On closer examination, his endeavour of providing a complete picture of the Naga in all of their life contexts becomes clear. A total of 533 of the 889 objects in his collection can be assigned to the realms of household, clothing, agriculture, craftsmanship, or tools. The head trophies and other objects related to headhunting belong without doubt to the most spectacular in the collection.

Exhibition Catalogue 2019
Nepal Art Now
€ 35.00€ 19.95

HR. Prof. Dr. Christian Schicklgruber
+43 1 534 30 – 5101


Photo Collection

Photo Collection

The Photographic Collection of the Weltmuseum Wien contains more than 140,000 objects, and deserves attention from the standpoints of both ethnology and the history of photography. It was established in 1880, around 40 years after the invention of photography. Its task was to support the research and exhibition activities of the anthropological-ethnographic department at the Imperial and Royal Court Museum of Natural History in Vienna.

Photography was initially considered a purely documentary medium that was able to “objectively” depict reality. New insights followed: the subjective character of photography as recognised and aesthetic questions considered. It became increasingly clear to what degree the view of the world and its inhabitants were influenced through media.

The collection includes important examples of early travel and research photography, including works by Albert Frisch, Joachim von Brenner-Felsach, Otto Finsch, Oscar Baumann, Eduard Hodek, Rudolf Pöch, Helene and Rudolf Oldenburg, Christoph Fürer-Haimendorf, and Mario Baldi. In addition, the extensive holdings document the development of commercial photography outside of Europe through photos from established studios in the late 19th century.

The Photographic Collection of the Weltmuseum was established in 1880, around 40 years after the invention of photography. Its task was to support the research and exhibition activities of the anthropological-ethnographic department at the Imperial and Royal Court Museum of Natural History in Vienna. From its rather modest beginnings and despite the lack of adequate means for a systematic expansion, the collection has been growing ever since, today containing about 129,000 objects that deserve attention from the standpoints of both ethnology and the history of photography.

In the early beginnings, photography was interesting from a purely documentary perspective as a medium that was allegedly able to “objectively” depict reality. Nevertheless, photography gradually recognised its aesthetic aspects, its subjectivity, and its significance due to its influence on the view of the world and its inhabitants.

Aside from extensive holdings documenting the development of commercial photography outside of Europe in the late 19th century (represented by photographs of the studios Bonfils, Sébah & Joaillier, Zangaki, Lehnert & Landrock, Woodbury & Page, Kazumasa Ogawa, Kerry & Co., Lala Deen Dayal, and others), the collection also features important examples of early travel and research photography, including works by Albert Frisch, Joachim von Brenner-Felsach, Otto Finsch, Oscar Baumann, Eduard Hodek, Rudolf Pöch, Helene and Rudolf Oldenburg, Christoph Fürer-Haimendorf, and Mario Baldi.

Dr. Hanin Hannouch
+43 1 534 30 – 5066

Mag. Manfred Kaufmann
+43 1 534 30 – 5110




The archives of the Weltmuseum Wien are home to the records pertaining to the museum´s history and its collections. The earliest records were created during the museum´s inauguration and follow its vibrant development from its inception in 1928 up to the present day.

Documents and publications on exhibits and events, as well as newspaper articles and so much more, are a testament of the eventful history of the Museum.

Among the archive’s focus areas are the partial and fractional estate of former, anthropologists, travelers and staff members such as Otto Finsch, Franz Heger, Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria-Este, Robert Unterwelz, Wanda Hanke, and Etta Becker-Donner. Some of this material has already been researched and published, while the scientific registration of these documentary estates continues.

Further information about individual collections can be found in the relevant collector records, as well as the administrative record collections.


Caroline Mc Kinley, BA MA
+43 1 534 30 - 5118


The archives are open to scientific researchers as well as interested individuals upon request and an appointment scheduled by telephone.  



Since it was founded in 1928, what is now the Weltmuseum Wien has been affiliated with a publicly accessible library. It is particularly intended for scientific research, but is also open to anyone looking for information from the field of cultural and social anthropology.

The core of the contemporary library is formed by ethnological and ethnographic works, as well as a large number of travel reports from the holdings of today's Natural History Museum. With more than 150,000 media items, it is one of the leading European specialist libraries in the field of cultural and social anthropology, especially thanks to its extensive inventory of historical works. The holdings include literature on the history of the collections and museums, current cultural and social anthropological topics, globalisation, museology, migration, restitution, and post-colonialism as well as exhibition and inventory catalogues of ethnological museums, lexicons, encyclopaedias, dictionaries, bibliographies, and historical maps.

The magazine catalogue currently lists more than 3,000 national and international journal titles. The valuable historical inventory of largely complete journal series is continuously supplemented by existing subscriptions, granting access to recent publications. Most publications can be taken out on loan. The reading and working area is equipped with a copier with a scan function.



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1010 Vienna, Austria

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