Schonbrunn Palace – Vienna, Austria
The former summer residence of the imperial Habsburg family takes its name from a beautiful spring found on the site. Leopold I asked the Baroque architect Johann Bernhard Fischer von Erlach to design a residence here in 1695, but it was not until Empress Maria Theresa employed the Rococo architect Nikolaus Pacassi in the mid-18th century that it was completed. Fine gardens complement the palace.
The daughter of Emperor Charles VI, Maria Theresa (1717-80) became archduchess of Austria and queen of Hungary and Bohemia on her father’s death in 1740. Five years later, her husband, Duke Francis Stephen of Lorraine, was recognized as Holy Roman Emperor. Maria Theresa instigated numerous reforms in the spirit of the Enlightenment. She initiated state-supported elementary schools, introduced a new penal code, and reduced taxation. She also worked toward unifying Habsburg lands by centralizing control over the empire. One of her 16 children was Marie-Antoinette, who married Louis XVI of France.
Schonbrunn Palace stands on the site of the Katterburg, a 14th-century castle that belonged to the Neuburg Convent. By the time Emperor Maximilian II bought the property in 1569, it included a mansion, a mill and stables. Maximilian intended to turn it into a pleasure palace and a zoo, and indeed a palace was finally built in the mid-17th century by the widow of Emperor Ferdinand II. She named it “Schdnbrunn” after the “Schonen Brunnen” (beautiful spring), discovered by Emperor Matthew II while hunting on the estate in 1612. This first palace was destroyed by the Turks during the Siege of Vienna in 1683. Emperor Leopold I acquired the estate in 1686 and commissioned today’s palace.
CEREMONIAL STATE ROOMS
As architect to the court of Empress Maria Theresa, Nikolaus Pacassi oversaw the enlargement and redesign of Schonbrunn Palace. Together with Rococo artists and craftsmen, including Albert Bolla, Gregorio Guglielmi, Isidor Canevale, and Thaddaeus Adam Karner, Pacassi was responsible for creating the interiors of both the state rooms and the private quarters.
The Large Rosa Room and the Millions’ Room, for example, feature frescoes and stuccowork in the Rococo style commissioned by Maria Theresa herself. The Schonbrunn Palace is renowned for its intricate gilded stuccowork, elegant mirrored galleries, and exotic chinoiserie.
During her widowhood, Maria Theresa lived in this room, which is decorated with exquisite Oriental lacquered panels.
Maria There sa’s conference room features superb Rococo decor.
Used for imperial banquets, the gallery has a lovely ceiling fresco by Gregorio Guglielmi.
The imperial family’s breakfast room has white wood paneling inlaid with applique floral designs worked by Maria Theresa and her daughters.
This is the first of a suite of rooms that provide a glimpse of Emperor Franz Joseph’s life at the palace.
Blue Chinese Salon
This Rococo room, with its Chinese scenes, was where the last Habsburg emperor, Karl I, signed his abdication in 1918.
Large Rosa Room
This is one of three rooms decorated with monumental Swiss and Italian landscape paintings by Josef Rosa, after whom the room is named.
Round Chinese Cabinet
Maria Theresa used this white and gold room for private discussions with her state chancellor, Prince Kaunitz. The walls are adorned with lacquered panels.
This leads to the apartment of the state chancellor, above which he had secret conferences with Empress Maria Theresa.
A MILITARY MAN
When visiting Schonbrunn, Emperor Franz Joseph I would sleep in a simple, iron-framed bed, as befit a man who felt more at home in the field. He died at the palace in 1916, after nearly 68 years on the throne.
THE CARRIAGE MUSEUM
One wing of the palace, formerly housing the Winter Riding School, now contains a marvelous collection of coaches used by the imperial family and Viennese court. It includes more than 60 carriages dating back to the 17th century, as well as riding uniforms, horse tack, saddles, coachmen’s liveries, and paintings and drawings of horses and carriages. The main exhibit is the richly decorated and carved coronation coach of Emperor Charles VI.
1696: Fischer von Erlach begins work on Emperor Leopold I’s new residence.
1728: Emperor Charles VI purchases Schonbrunn and later makes a gift of it to his daughter, Maria Theresa.
1743-63: Nikolaus Pacassi enlarges Schonbrunn into a palatial imperial and family residence in the Rococo style.
1775-80: Court architect Johann Ferdinand Hetzendorf von Plohenberg redesigns the gardens.
1918: As the Habsburg Empire ends, the palace passes to the Austrian state.
1996: Schonbrunn Palace is added to UNESCO’s World Heritage list.