Riding the wave


Istria and Dalmatia in the middle of the 19th century: the views of Joseph Rieger

On 20 August 1838 the Austrian Lloyd inaugurated a regular service from Trieste to the Bay of Kotor: before 1844 twenty cruises were made, that carried almost 2,900 passengers.

To illustrate their itineraries, the company entrusted to the painter Joseph Rieger from Trieste the task of reproducing the landscapes and ports of Istria and Dalmatia. His work resulted in detailed views about 25x17 cm, glued to each other to form two strips of three and ten meters, folded accordion-bound in two volumes in cardboard, depicting the entire coast from Trieste to the Austrian-Turkish border.

While it is likely that a small number was given to the officers for use on board, most copies would be dedicated to tourism promotion and were thus distributed or sold to guests of the ship as a souvenir of the trip, which justifies the large circulation of the volumes.

Rieger probably made his drawings on the basis of similar coastal profiles of the Adriatic "Carta di cabottaggio" , produced by the Austrians in the years 1822-24, which he later improved during inspections on site: his representation of many coastal towns are detailed and certainly true, and not only attractive but also the more interesting as historical and environmental documents.

Korcula in the foreground

The first volume, entitled Costa occidentale / dell'Istria / disegnata per ordine del / Lloyd austriaco / da / Giuseppe Rieger (Trieste, Linassi Lithograph), has a title-page with a geometrical layout, though decorated with swirls and flourishes, and opens with a historic summary and a summary of statistics. While the second gives brief geographical and economic information, the first outlines the history of Istria from "500 BC, when the peoples of Istria passed from the Black Sea into the Adriatic ...," until 1813, when "the region was conquered by Austria.

His brief overview concludes with the news that the steam-line was activated in Istria in 1845, though in fact the Lloyd had already established it some years before. Therefore it is likely that in 1845 there was the official inauguration of an event that had previously encountered some difficulties, and that the book of views was meant to emphasize that happy occasion.

The second book, published in 1850, has a spectacular cover, is titled Panorama / della Costa e delle Isole di / Dalmazia / nei viaggi dei Piroscafi del Lloyd austriaco. / Disegnato per ordine dello Stabilimento suddetto / da Giuseppe Rieger. / Trieste, Litografia di B. Linassi e C., and illustrates the coast from Pula to the Bay of Kotor.

The books are compiled with careful attention to information needs of passengers, almost like a concise guide. Each view has Italian place-names and indicates their distance in miles from Trieste, but often provides additional news, such as the number of inhabitants, heights of mountains, local Authorities in major towns and features of particular buildings.

Another outstanding feature is the sense of calm that the views express, representing smooth waters near the coast, as if navigation took place entirely within internal safe channels, so as to suggest confidence to passengers.

Split with the Palace of Diocletian

An evident promotional aim emerges also from the representation - in the views - of the steamships of the Lloyd, in service along those coasts, drawn out of scale with respect to the landscape and with great precision, to enable better identification: as reported by Umberto Del Bianco - who in 1977 published In Istria e in Dalmazia / con il Lloyd austriaco / Itinerario di un viaggio marittimo tra Trieste e Cattaro / disegnato da Giuseppe Rieger, with ample historical commentary - the ships are the "Count Mitrowski", "The Baron Sturmer" and "Baron von Kubeck" that Lloyd had assigned to the Trieste-Pula route: they were identical wooden paddle boats, 38 meter-long, about 230 tons each, launched in 1837 the first two, and the third in 1842.

Mali Losinj. On the left a vapor of Lloyd Triestino
The city of Zadar with its fortifications

Altogether the views of Istria and Dalmatia are over twenty meter-long and are perhaps the only full representation of the eastern Adriatic coast.

The two volumes were reprinted by Campanotto Publisher (Trieste, 1991) and various editions of the originals are available at the Public Library Sormani, Milan, and at the Naval Museum of Rijeka. A facsimile reprint of the third edition dedicated to Dalmatia was published in 2003 by prof. Mithad Kozlicic at the Croatian Hydrographic Institute in Split (email), with extensive historical and critical multilingual notes, which will certainly please those who love the beautiful coast of Croatia and Eastern Adriatic in general.

The views were published in Coste del Mediterraneo nella cartografia europea 1500-1900, , by
Paola Presciuttini, Pavone Canavese, Priuli & Verlucca Publishers, 2004, 179 p., 318 ill.