FELIX KANITZ ~ LIFE, TRAVELS AND SCIENTIFIC WORK
Author: Geza Feher
Felix Kanitz and his studies of Bulgarian lands
Political developments in South East Europe in the second half of the 19th century and especially those following the Crimean Russo-Turkish War of 1856, shifted the focus of attention of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire of the Habsburgs to the Balkans, as a target of possible expansion. That is why the studies Felix Kanitz carried out merited interest in his own lifetime.
Felix Philip Kanitz was born in Budapest in 1829. He lost his parents early in life, and learned to make his own way into society. The gifted young gentleman stuck to the artistic milieu and mingled with artists, writers, journalists and scientists. He first came to Bulgaria on 11 July 1860, on his way from Serbia. He traveled the region far and wide for a whole decade, acquainting European people with those legendary lands. His tutor, the renowned Slavic studies master Frantz von Miklosich, gave him the incentive and managed even to get him a scholarship worth 1000 silver florins for studies of the Bulgarian and Serbian lands. Felix Kanitz was lucky that his subject area coincided with Austrian-Hungarian political interests at the time, which enabled him to benefit from state financial assistance.
Felix Kanitz was endowed with the special ability to reproduce in an etching everything he saw in photographic detail. He also was the first one to draw exact maps of his itineraries. As a result, he was given another scholarship worth 1500 florins by the Vienna Academy to continue his studies of the Bulgarian lands. Kanitz was the first to point that Bulgarian cultural heritage had no trace of Western influence, unlike the Serbians, but was based instead entirely on Byzantine tradition. He elaborated the “Authentic Map of Danubian Bulgaria and the Balkan Range” in which he corrected the mistakes made by his predecessors. His map was so accurate that the Chief Headquarters of the Russian Empire copied it and used it in their military campaign during the Russo-Turkish War of 1877/78. The Russian Emperor awarded Felix Kanitz with the St. Stanislas order for the exactitude of that map.
Kanitz was the first to recognize the unique place Bulgarian culture occupied in European heritage and was the first to enlighten European science on the state and nature of Byzantine heritage on the Balkans, a fact little spoken of by that time in the scientific lore. His accurateness was amazing. He drew sketches of archaeological monuments, family scenes, architectural compositions, and the precision of the details is just astounding.
Through his work Felix Kanitz got very close with Bulgarians, and he even took part in their struggles and social life. For example he was on friendly terms with revolutionary movement ideologist Georgi Sava Rakovksi, whom he met earlier in Belgrade. He wrote articles in support of the struggles of the Bulgarian people for an autonomous Bulgarian Orthodox church and was also the author of a series of articles in Western periodicals on the April Uprising of 1876, naming it “the largest in scale ever manifestation of Bulgarian revolutionary movement”. Felix Kanitz made his last visit to Bulgaria in 1877.
Felix Kanitz’s work contributed immensely to acquainting Europe with Bulgarian material and spiritual heritage, geographical features, natural resources, and people. There has never been another foreigner that managed to get so deeply into Bulgarian spirit. Through his works in ethnography, archaeology, geography, hydrography, etching, and journalism he succeeded in showing the beauty of Bulgarian nature and people to the rest of the world.
With his death in 1904 Bulgaria lost a dear friend and a champion of her culture and prosperity.
Addendum: Felix Kanitz's first hobby from young age was drawing. He studied four years with the Viennese graveur V. Grimm and from 1847 was appointed journalist with "Leipziger Illustrirte Zeitung". During his travels at the Balkans from 1860 to 1874 he visited the Bulgarian lands on several occasions, which were then in the domain of the Ottoman Empire. F. Kanitz left as a heritage numerous graffito etchings and some aquarelle paintings — the Bulgarian collection being about 30 pieces. Seemingly those are one of the earliest landscapes from these geographic locations.
Felix Kanitz's aquarelle collection could be found here,
Copyright © 2008, 2011 by the author.