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Until 1918 the extensive palatial complex at the heart of Vienna was the political centre of the monarchy.
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. A remarkable exhibit here is the unusual English dinner service that Empress Elisabeth gave to Emperor Franz Joseph for his hunting lodge at Offensee. The Grand Vermeil is without doubt one of the most important services in the Court Silver Room. Whenever Empress Elisabeth travelled to the villa called the Achilleion that had been built for her on the island of Corfu, she used the yacht Miramare. The monumental Milan centrepiece was commissioned for the coronation of Emperor Ferdinand as king of Lombardy-Venetia in 1838. There was a centuries-old tradition at the Viennese court according to which the emperor and empress washed the feet of 12 men and 12 women each year on Holy Thursday, in remembrance of the act of humility performed by Christ in washing the feet of his disciples. This desert service, formerly known as the Laxenburg Service, was commissioned from the Viennese Porcelain Manufactory in 1824 to mark the marriage of Archduke Franz Carl to Princess Sophie of Bavaria, the parents of the future Emperor Franz Joseph.
This service came to Vienna from Castle Miramare near Trieste, the former residence of Archduke Ferdinand Max, later to become Emperor Maximilian of Mexico. The service with the green ribbons was a precious gift from the French king, Louis XV, to Empress Maria Theresa. In 1777 Emperor Joseph II visited his sister, the French queen Marie Antoinette, at Versailles.
The folding of table napkins into imaginative shapes is an old but unfortunately dying art.
The Old French Centrepiece was commissioned in Paris in 1838 on the occasion of Emperor Ferdinand’s coronation as king of Lombardy-Venetia in Milan.
The Imperial Silver Collection owes its interesting and comprehensive collection of Far Eastern porcelain dating from around 1700 to Duke Alexander of Lorraine. The fact that almost no court table silver has survived from earlier periods is due to two reasons: on the one hand table silver was melted down and other objects made from it as soon as it showed signs of wear or was no longer fashionable, or its owner found himself in need of money.
This porcelain dessert service made by the Minton manufactory in England was one of the highlights of the Great Exhibition in London of 1851. The Emperor’s Staircase with its magnificent marble stucco decoration and bronze-gilt vases takes you up to the main floor of the palace. In April 1854 the sixteen-year-old Duchess Elisabeth in Bavaria travelled to Vienna to marry her cousin, Emperor Franz Joseph. On 10 September 1898 Europe was shaken by the news that Empress Elisabeth of Austria had been assassinated.
The newspaper cuttings in the displays in front of and behind you give some idea of how Elisabeth was seen by contemporary journalists. We need styles that are quick and easy to maintain without having to wake up at the break of dawn every morning to get it right. 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. Note the fine glass services made by the firm of Lobmeyr in Vienna with different variations in the way they have been cut. 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. 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.
Dating to 1870, it was designed by William Coleman and is decorated with naturalistic representations of insects, birds, sea creatures and plants.
A major work of French goldsmith’s art, it originally included articles for 40 place settings.
In the central display case are silver plates, bowls, casseroles and terrines which give an impression of the range of court table silver needed for daily use. On board she used a specially made dinner service and cutlery made of silver-plated alpaca; the pattern of the service was from the range offered by the Arthur Krupp metalware factory at Berndorf around 1890. It is the most elaborate ensemble in the Imperial Silver Collection and together with its mirror plateaus it can be extended to a length of 30 metres. The ceremony was performed on elderly paupers, who presented themselves at court on Holy Thursday, washed and dressed in clean clothes and having undergone a careful medical examination. At the end of the 18th century, Emperor Franz I, the bridegroom’s father, had had the Franzensburg built at Laxenburg, a Habsburg summer residence near Vienna.
Tastes had changed around the middle of the century, with the emphatically clear lines of the Biedermeier era giving way to a softer, more flowing formal idiom.
This decorative bronze-gilt piece surpasses the other centrepieces by far in the opulence of its decoration.
It was intended as a sign of increasing rapprochement between France and Austria after the bloody wars of succession. On his return he brought with him a total of 500 costly porcelain objects from Sèvres, including the apple-green dinner service and four magnificent tureens, three of which have been preserved in the Imperial Silver Collection.
These complex creations imitating the shapes of fans, fish, shells, swans, ducks or flowers were used as table decorations above all in the early Baroque era.
Each individual piece of this dinner service with settings for twelve people is covered with polished gold; some of them are even gilded inside and underneath. Although at that time porcelain was a sought-after and costly collector’s object, it was not yet considered worthy of being used at the imperial table, except for the dessert course. Karl Alexander was the younger brother of Emperor Franz Stephan, the husband of Maria Theresa. It comprises a knife, fork, serving fork and a spoon, with a small matching eggcup, an egg spoon with a marrow extractor, and a salt-cellar. However, the main reason for silver being melted down at the end of the 18th century was the Napoleonic Wars. After the wedding she moved into her suite of rooms in the Hofburg and entered the rarefied world of the Austrian imperial court.
Elisabeth‘s tragic death brought the troubled and unhappy life of a highly unusual and often misunderstood personality to an end.
It is evident that during her lifetime Elisabeth did not dominate the front pages of the press as the beautiful, popular and acclaimed empress – in fact there were very few reports about Elisabeth, as she withdrew from her public role as empress at a very early stage and during the last few years of her life was seldom in Vienna.
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.


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.
The solid silver service bears the imperial arms and is notable for its simple and restrained elegance. It has a white ground, a delicate gold rim with a pattern of dots and a double eagle in black, red and gold. The only clue to its illustrious use is an engraved coat of arms with a dolphin surmounted by the imperial crown.
On the central piece you can see the allegorical figures of Lombardia with her mural crown and a horn of plenty together with Venetia with the doge’s cap and the lion of St Mark, while around the rim of the plateau dancing genii alternate with candelabra.
After the foot-washing ceremony they were served a meal consisting of traditional Lenten fare and then presented with the gifts of a lidded earthenware jug filled with white wine, a silver beaker marked with the double eagle and the year, dishes of food and a pouch containing 30 silver coins, a reference to the thirty pieces of silver received by Judas for betraying Christ.
It was designed as a monument to the Habsburg dynasty, and its life-size statues, paintings, coats of arms and stained glass windows were intended to glorify the family’s history. Ferdinand subsequently moved to the fortress at Prague, where he lived in quiet retirement until his death in 1875.
The rich gold decoration expresses the growing need to demonstrate feudal magnificence, a tendency that also made itself felt at the imperial Viennese court. The huge candelabra have a richly decorated superstructure composed of scrolls and rocaille work and are animated by playful putti, leaping game animals and fluttering birds. Green intertwining ribbons represent the main decorative element, while the forms of the individual items are modelled on Baroque goldsmith’s work. At court it was customary to keep large foreign commissions secret or to arrange them via the offices of the Grand Comptroller in order to avoid offending Viennese craftsmen.
The fact that it became acceptable at court around 1800 is also due to the court table silver having been melted down to produce coins during the wars.
Queen Victoria purchased the service and sent part of it as a gift of friendship to Emperor Franz Joseph. The Hofburg was the residence of the Habsburgs for over six centuries and thus the centre of the Holy Roman Empire. However, it also contributed to the forming of an enduring myth that Elisabeth herself had fostered through her unconventional lifestyle.
Since the newspapers published within the empire were also subject to strict censorship, critical reports of the empress were unlikely to appear. 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. It was not until the end of the 19th century that towels made of piqué, and later of terrycloth, came into use. The large amount of silverware can be explained by the fact that the Viennese court dined off silver or gold plates. It is also interesting in terms of technique: the decoration was applied to the porcelain by means of a lithographic gold and polychrome transfer process, a technique invented around 1855. On the other side of the display case you can see further items bearing the famous dolphin mark which decorated all the objects that were for the personal use of the empress during her stays in Greece. Standing before this impressive centrepiece one can vividly imagine the magnificence of imperial banquets, with the tables decorated with luxuriant bouquets of flowers as well as arrangements of fruit and sweetmeats.
The two gold lavabo garnitures or sets were made by the foremost Augsburg silversmiths of the 18th century. In 1864 he accepted the emperorship of Mexico, but failed to establish himself in his new empire. The white and gold dinner service was ordered for his new household in Prague from the porcelain manufactory of the Counts of Thun at Klösterle in Bohemia. The need for a centrepiece of this size had arisen because the young emperor used to issue regular invitations to his advisors and ministers to dine at court. The imperial table napkin measuring one square metre is eminently suited for this, and there still exists a wealth of models from the 17th century for these artistic creations. While the bulbous tureens with finials in the shape of fruits still seem to belong to the Baroque era, the perforated fruit basket already displays elements of Classicism with its predilection for the formal repertoire of Antiquity.
After the wedding the young couple moved to Brussels, where Karl Alexander became governor of the Netherlands. It was not until approaching the end of the 18th century that matching sets of cutlery with place settings in multiples of 12 came into existence, the number being derived from the 12 apostles. No exception could be made for the Court Table Silver and so it was also sacrificed to this end. This fragile work of art with its unglazed biscuit porcelain figures and little custard cups was never used at the Austrian court, the brittleness of the material making this luxury item unusable for the purpose for which it was intended.
In addition to its role as the seat of government and centre of administration, the Hofburg was also the winter residence of the imperial family.
The displays in the following six rooms will allow you to explore myth and reality of the empress’s life. At that time, copper was commonly used for kitchen utensils in aristocratic or middle-class households. Various porcelain services in the display cases provide a picture of how tastes changed over the course of time.
Porcelain, which had been produced in Europe from 1710, was for a long time only used for the soup and dessert courses; all other dishes continued to be served on silver plates. From this time onwards, hand-painting was superseded by the rationalised processes of mass-production.
The silver cutlery also displayed here was made by a Trieste silversmith and was also intended for use at the Achilleion.
The Classicistic figures on the centrepiece derive from the tradition of Baroque table decorations which, depending on the occasion for the meal, drew on elements of the classical pantheon, or the arts of war or love.
They were used at Habsburg baptisms, for ceremonial ablutions at table and for the footwashing ceremony at Easter. He was taken prisoner by the leader of the republican forces, Benito Juarez, who had him shot by firing squad in 1867. Under the influence of Archduchess Sophie, neo-Baroque and neo-Rococo elements became popular at court, a circumstance that was particularly reflected in the way the apartments were furnished but also had an influence on the design of utensils for the dining table. They represent allegories of love, poetry, music, painting and sculpture or contain references to world literature from Homer to Molière. It was urgently needed, as the gold service appropriate to an imperial court had been melted down for coin during the wars against Napoleon.


The rectangular mirror plateaus would have reflected the candlelight from the girandoles or candelabra.
Uniform sets of cutlery then replaced the personal, individually designed sets of the imperial family. The silver plates and dishes were replaced by porcelain services made by the Vienna Porcelain Manufactory. From the 18th century onwards, the court spent the summer mainly at Schönbrunn Palace. The exhibition you are about to see tries to answer these questions by exploring the personality of the empress.
This is borne out by newspaper reports following the death of the empress, in which sympathy was expressed for the emperor as the victim of yet another heavy blow of fate. A single ticket opens the doors to three fascinating locations of Austria’s imperial heritage.
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. 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.
It also has an interesting history, being closely connected to the rise and fall of Napoleon. It was not until during the 19th century that porcelain services began to be used for meals taken in the family circle. It is no coincidence that the neo-Gothic forms of the centrepiece are reminiscent of reliquary shrines, chalices and other ecclesiastical utensils. The service is a magnificent example of the elegant wares produced by the royal French porcelain manufactory at Sèvres, founded in 1738. When Emperor Franz visited Paris in 1814 and it emerged that Vienna was to host a large congress of all the European powers, this service was duly ordered from the Vienna Porcelain Manufactory. The figurative decoration and the soft, curving tendrils evoke an impression of elegant grandeur. Framed by gold rims, the scenes include erupting volcanoes, icy glacier landscapes or imposing Viennese architecture – each plate displaying three views from Austria, Switzerland and Italy, executed by the best porcelain painters after old engravings, a painstaking task that took five years. After his death his nephew Emperor Joseph II was appointed executor of his estate, and he had a large part of the collection auctioned off in Brussels. Please proceed to the main building of the Hofburg where you can visit the Sisi Museum and the historic residential apartments of Emperor Franz Joseph and Empress Elisabeth.
It was not until after her tragic death that Elisabeth became stylised as an empress revered for her selflessness and goodness – thus establishing yet another false image. 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. That is why the utensils had to be tinned on the inside and regularly checked for any defects in the tin. A special feature here is the decoration on the side of the cutlery: the ever-popular fiddle and thread pattern. The showcases to the side contain gilded table decorations; the stands for sweetmeats and the bronze-gilt girandoles are part of the New French centrepiece which you will see later on in the tour. After the dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire in 1806, Emperor Franz was at pains to compensate for the loss of the sacred office of the German imperial title and to legitimise the divinely sanctioned nature and continuity of the Habsburg dynasty in the newly-created hereditary Austrian empire. The dinner service is a product of the Herend porcelain manufactory in Hungary, which initially specialised in copies of Chinese models. 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. It was executed by the Parisian goldsmith Martin-Guillaume Biennais and the Milanese goldsmith Eugenio Brusa. Thus, even the dinner services with portraits of their ancestors were imbued with an almost liturgical character, as it were staking a claim on eternity. Some of the surviving pieces represent an interesting symbiosis between Far Eastern and European culture. Visitors to the Imperial Apartments will gain an insight into the world of Austrian’s most illustrious imperial couple.
Moritz Fischer, the owner of the manufactory, was permitted to display the service in 1867 at the Paris World Exhibition as an advertisement for Herend’s wares.
It was used just this once with the double ribbon motif to make this gift for Maria Theresa.
These porcelain plates and vessels from Japan and China were fitted with mounts by European silversmiths to adapt them for court use.
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.
After its completion the service was brought to Milan, but following the defeat of Napoleon the Kingdom of Lombardy-Venetia fell to Austria. This was only allowed to be used at court dinners when the emperor was present, and its technique was a well-kept secret that was only handed down by word of mouth to selected individuals. By the time the exhibition had ended Maximilian was dead, and the service was never sent to Mexico. Their blue, red and gold painted decoration is in the typical colours of Japanese porcelain of that epoch, which is known as Imari ware after the trading port it was exported from. Klinkosch completed the service, which was enlarged considerably after the marriage of Emperor Franz Joseph to Princess Elisabeth in Bavaria in 1854. The conditions laid down by the Vienna Congress required Emperor Franz to purchase the service from Eugène de Beauharnais. Even today, it may only be used on the occasion of state visits by crowned heads and presidents, and only two people know – and carefully guard – the secret of the technique! The centrepiece in the form of a rocky landscape was probably made by a Viennese silversmith.
On the occasion of his fourth marriage to Caroline Auguste he had the service taken to Vienna in 1816 after the engraved arms of Napoleon as King of Italy had been replaced with his own as Emperor of Austria. Incense could be placed inside the base of the silver tree, with the aromatic smoke escaping through the holes in the trunk.



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