Until 1918 the extensive palatial complex at the heart of Vienna was the political centre of the monarchy. Today it fulfills the same role for the democratic Republic of Austria. The rooms where the Congress of Vienna met and danced and where Emperor Franz Joseph held audiences, now houses the offices of the Federal President, the ministers of the chancellor’s office and the secretaries of state. This sprawling, asymmetric complex of building with its 19 courtyards and 18 wings is also home to numerous cultural institutions, ranging from the Spanish Riding School to the Austrian National Library. The Vienna Hofburg is a must for anybody wanting to explore the world of the Habsburgs. A single ticket opens the doors to three fascinating locations of Austria’s imperial heritage. In the Imperial Silver Collection magnificent dining services, centrepieces measuring up to 30 metres in length and exquisite napery give an impression of the lavish pomp of imperial banquets. The Sisi Museum conveys a complex picture of Empress Elisabeth with numerous, partly very personal objects on display which afford fascination insights into the official and private worlds, of this unique woman. Visitors to the Imperial Apartments will gain an insight into the world of Austrian’s most illustrious imperial couple. The nineteen rooms in the apartments occupied by Emperor Franz Joseph and his wife Elisabeth, comprising studies, residential suites and reception rooms, are all furnished and decorated to the highest standards of historical authenticity, and in their comparative restraint form a fascinating contrast to the exuberant splendor of the imperial summer residence at Schönbrunn.
01 - Intro
02 - Imperial Silver Collection and the Copper Display Case
After the end of the Habsburg monarchy in 1918, several departments of the huge but now defunct imperial household were amalgamated under the name of the “Court Silver and Table Room“ and opened to the public in 1923 with displays of objects from the collection of porcelain, the Court Confectionery, the Court Wine Cellars, the Court Kitchens and the Court Linen Room. On your tour today you will encounter various aspects of the former imperial court household and gain an insight into the glittering world of Habsburg banquets. In front of you is a selection of copper vessels, pans and moulds which convey an idea of the range of different activities carried out in the court kitchens: the turbot kettles, water kettles, asparagus pans, the “Olio cauldrons” and the warming dishes which held live coals in their lids to keep the dishes warm – all of these objects testify to the enormous effort required to cater for a court household numbering up to 5,000 individuals. Copper moulds were used in countless variations for dishes in aspic (for example brawn), sponge cakes, creams, nougat and of course for the imperial version of the famous Viennese cake called “Gugelhupf”, and give an impression of the skills and arts of the Court Confectionery and Desserts Kitchen. At that time, copper was commonly used for kitchen utensils in aristocratic or middle-class households. It has the advantage that it is a good conductor of heat; however, its one disadvantage is that poisonous verdigris can form if it comes into contact with acid foodstuffs. That is why the utensils had to be tinned on the inside and regularly checked for any defects in the tin.
03 - The Old Silver Room, various services, silver cutlery
In the first room of the Old Court Silver and Table Room with its oak display cases dating from the time of the monarchy you will see individual items or pieces from Old Vienna, Hungarian and Bohemian services as well as examples of white and gold sanitary porcelain from Bohemia. Note the fine glass services made by the firm of Lobmeyr in Vienna with different variations in the way they have been cut. The green glasses were used for Rhenish wines. The display case in the centre of the room contains the imperial silver cutlery. This is still used today for state banquets. The first large set was supplied by Stephan Mayerhofer before 1837; later orders went to his successors Mayerhofer and Klinkosch and subsequently to Joseph Karl Klinkosch, Purveyor to the Imperial Household. A special feature here is the decoration on the side of the cutlery: the ever-popular fiddle and thread pattern.
04 - Court table linen, place setting of service used for state visits
The central display case contains items from the imperial Linen Room. Up to 1872 the linen of the imperial household was marked with various stamps and yellow dye; it was not until later that monograms and crowns were embroidered on the individual items. Towels and bedlinen used to be made exclusively of fine white linen. It was not until the end of the 19th century that towels made of piqué, and later of terrycloth, came into use. Various porcelain services in the display cases provide a picture of how tastes changed over the course of time. At the beginning of the 19th century the tableware for everyday use in the reigns of Emperors Franz I and Ferdinand I changed very little: plain white porcelain with a smooth gold rim; only the imperial eagle gives any clues as to the current fashion or the individual style of the craftsman who painted these items. In the display case to the left of the doorway to the next room you can see pieces from the “State Visit Service” which was used until recently as a formal service for state banquets; you will be hearing more about this later on in the tour. During the time of the monarchy it was known as the “Court Form Service” and was used for evening dinners attended by the imperial family.
05 - Sanitary porcelain
Before Empress Elisabeth had her own bathroom installed in 1876 – the first member of the Austrian imperial family to do so – the palace had no bathrooms in the modern sense of the word. Even after this, the majority of those belonging to the court household had to make do with sets of sanitary porcelain consisting of washbasins, water jugs, footbaths, shaving bowls, soap dishes, chamber pots and so on. While these sets were not uniform, the majority of items were made of white porcelain and decorated with a gold rim and a gold imperial eagle.
06 - Minton Service
A remarkable exhibit here is the unusual English dinner service that Empress Elisabeth gave to Emperor Franz Joseph for his hunting lodge at Offensee. Dating to 1870, it was designed by William Coleman and is decorated with naturalistic representations of insects, birds, sea creatures and plants.