‘Tibetan Treasures’ of the Weltmuseum Wien: A First Critical Approach to René de Nebesky-Wojkowitz’s Policy of Collecting

  • Uwe Niebuhr (Autor/in)
  • Verena Widorn (Autor/in)


The Austrian tibetologist and ethnographer René de Nebesky-Wojkowitz purchased a significant part of the Tibetan collection at the Weltmuseum Wien during his three field trips to South Asia in the 1950s. Famous for his indispensable book Oracles and Demons of Tibet (1956), Nebesky-Wojkowitz started his studies at the University of Vienna right after World War II, at a time when a paradigm shift took place in the field of ethnology, bringing in a new historic-empirical orientation to the discipline. The initial phase of his first journey to Kalimpong between 1950 and 1953 was characterised by his membership in the expedition of Prince Peter of Greece and Denmark. Kalimpong (West Bengal) was a meeting place for numerous important researchers sharing diverse interests in Buddhism and the Tibetan culture. Although Nebesky-Wojkowitz never had the chance to enter Tibet, he became fascinated with Tibetan culture, religion and art. As one of the very few foreigners who travelled in the mountainous regions of the Eastern Himalayas he came in direct contact with the local population and Tibetan refugees, collecting large numbers of objects and artefacts of ethnological, ritual and art historical relevance. This essay is the first critical analysis of Nebesky-Wojkowitz's method of collecting Tibetan objects and data (outside of Tibet).