Sunday, May 4, 2014

Schonbrunn Palace, Vienna: Crown of the Habsburg Empire

The Habsburg Empire, seated in Vienna and brought to prominence in the 16th century, sought to display its authority and power through palace complexes, much like Louis XIV of France sought to do with the Chateau de Versailles. Schonbrunn Palace in Vienna is a Baroque masterpiece and monument to the splendor of the Imperial Habsburgs.  

“The Habsburgs derived their right to unlimited dominion from religion; as emperors of the Holy Roman Empire they were firmly convinced of a divine mission in exercising the highest secular office in Christendom. The divine right of kings was firmly anchored in the idea of Empire…The imperial ethos of the Habsburgs, underpinned by religion, was in fact seen as the conscious antithesis to the French kingship of Louis XIV with its flaunting of secular pomp.” –The World of the Habsburgs ( This website offers a virtual exhibit of the rich history of the Habsburg Empire and includes timelines, biographies, maps, and other extensive resources on this family that impacted the course of European history. 

During the Middle Ages, the estate that was to become Schonbrunn was known as the Katterburg – a hunting lodge, much like the origin of Versailles. In 1612, Emperor Matthias came upon a schöne brunnen (“fair spring”) while on a hunting excursion, from which the name “Schonbrunn” was derived.

In 1688, Emperor Leopold I hired Italian-trained architect Johann Bernhard Fischer von Erlach to design a magnificent new residence for son Joseph I, who was known as Austria’s “Sun Emperor” (another reference to Louis XIV and the state’s increasing power). Designs were presented for a new palace, the Schönbrunn I Project.

The floor plans below show the grand layout of one of the floors of the Palace. In the hierarchy of rooms, the most important spaces are toward the middle and the back of the structure (Ceremonial Room, Great Gallery, Hall of Mirrors, etc.). The photos of the Palace interior show a glimpse of the richness, opulence, and taste of this monumental building.

The photograph below shows Schonbrunn's Hall of Mirrors, and the photograph after (two photographs down) depicts Versailles's Hall of Mirrors (again highlighting the similarities between the two palaces).



The types of garments worn in the Habsburg Court at Schonbrunn were fashions that followed the Baroque style of the French and Italians. Women wore extravagant silk dresses in vibrant colors decorated with laces and ribbons, and a narrow waist was achieved through corsets and emphasized by contrast to wide sleeves and skirts. Furthermore, “flea furs” were worn during winter and were thought to attract fleas to the fur instead of the women’s skin. Men typically wore long jackets, linen shirts, justaucorps (waistcoats), and powdered wigs.

This is a link to a YouTube video of a Baroque musical composition by Heinrich Biber (perhaps the forerunner to Justin Bieber). The piece is called Battalia a 10 in D major, C. 61 and is typical of the music that would have been played for the Habsburg Court of the Baroque period. One can listen to this song and imagine what it would be like to hear it reverberating through the magnificently frescoed and decorated halls of Schonbrunn.

Summary of helpful links: - World of the Habsburgs Website - Baroque fashions - Heinrich Biber Baroque music

No comments:

Post a Comment