Monday, September 22, 2014

Vienna - Day 15

Thursday, September 18
Gorgeous sunny day in Vienna and I headed to the Hofburg Palace to see the Sisi Museum, the Imperial apartments and the silver collection.
The Palace itself is imposing, taking up a large piece of city real estate. It is in a complex of other buildings that were once used by the Habsburgs, who ruled Austria for over 600 years ending in 1918. Now they are museums or government offices. There are 2600 rooms in the complex and 5,000 people are employed there in various capacities.
The combination ticket leads you first through the silver collection, which was far more interesting than I thought it would be. After the end of the Habsburg monarchy, the objects became the property of the Republic of Austria. First there were some beautiful silver pieces from the reign of Franz Joseph (mid 1800s to 1918). They prefaced the exhibit by saying there are very few pieces of Royal silver left from before then because it was melted down to make coins for the Napoleonic Wars. As a result, porcelain came into frequent use. Previously, it had only been used for soup and dessert.  There was a huge display of Imari Porcelain from the estate of Duke Alexander of Lorraine, brother-in- law of Maria Theresa.  Also, part of the display was a traveling tea set, which I found quite interesting,
and Empress Elizabeth's traveling silverware, complete with salt cellar.  
There were also exquisite table settings for 12. The note said that silverware was done in settings of 12 because there were 12 apostles.
There were also some interesting napkin folds which are said to take 1 sq. meter of fabric.
One of the highlights is the Habsburg Service centerpiece ensemble that expands up to 90 ft in length.
One really odd piece was a "duck squeezer," used to squeeze the juice from the bones of ducks to use in a rich sauce. It was said that the Empress made a diet of meat juice squeezed from bones.
From there the route leads to the Sisi Museum, the nickname for the Empress Elizabeth, wife of Franz Joseph I who lived from 1837-1898.  The museum was impressive, with 21st century displays, subdued lighting, and interesting displays of artifacts.
The six rooms explore the personality and life of this unusual Empress. Unfortunately, I was not allowed to take photos, because there were exquisite gowns, jewelry and mementos I would like to remember. Elizabeth was the 15 year old Duchess of Bavaria when she was introduced to the Emperor. She was with her mother and older sister, who was supposed to be the one chosen. But the monarch fell head over heels in love with Elizabeth and married her when she turned 16. She was very shy and really did not enjoy the public life. She was very beautiful but felt the need to maintain that beauty with obsessive dieting, sporting manias, and romantic, melancholy writings. 
Highlights include a copy of the dress she wore at the ball given before her wedding, famous portraits, parasols and fans, and the luxuriously-appointed imperial saloon car from a private yacht.
More than 20 original items of clothing including 2 light-colored gowns from the 1900s that she wore in Corfu, underwear such as culottes and a silk chemise and a belt measuring just 21 inches and an ermine cape, with the tails randomly stitched on.  He only son committed suicide in 1889 and her mourning clothes were also on display. Sisi, who from her writings and behavior, would be diagnosed as clincally depressed, was tragically assassinated by an Italian anarchist while traveling in Serbia in 1898. The Emperor's comment, when he heard about her death was, "You will never know how much I loved that woman." Following her death, her memory became bigger than her life, with statues and memorials erected throughout the Empire. Even today, the reluctant princess would be compared to Princess Diana.
The final section were the Imperial Apartments. There were 19 state and private rooms on display, which provide an insight into both the official and personal lives. Many of the rooms were decorated in red wallpaper with a pineapple motif while others were white with gold painted accents. Included were the emperor's audience chamber, his study and bedroom, which was very sparse. In his study, he had an 8 ft portrait of Sisi positioned across from his desk so he could constantly gaze at her. 
Her apartments adjoined his. In her bedroom/sitting room and dressing room, you could see evidence of her daily exercise routine - hoops hanging from a door casing and an odd ladder on a pedestal for climbing. There was also a huge mirror and it is said that it took 2 hours each day to prepare her hair, which hung to her ankles. Of particular interest was the empress's bathroom. She was the first member of royalty to have one installed in 1876 and her toilet was porcelain designed in the shape of a dolphin.
I spent several hours there and only had time for one other museum.  I chose the Albertina because they had 2 exhibits I thought I would like. One was an extensive temporary exhibit of Miro and the staircase promotes this exhibit.
The other was the permanent collection of Monet to Picasso. It was a gift in 2007 from Herbert and Rita Batliner and it comprised works from Monet, Matisse, Modigliani, Chagall, Degas, Renoir, Braque as well as Giacometti and Picasso.
Emerging from the museum was a great view overlooking Albertina Square.
Now it was time for dinner. I headed to Demel's for little fancy sandwiches and Vienese iced coffee. Delicious.
I headed back to the hotel to get ready for tomorrow.

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