Schloß Schönbrunn (Schönbrunn Palace) located in Hietzing, Vienna, was the main summer residence of the Habsburg rulers. This 1,441-room Rococo palace is one of the most important architectural, cultural, and historic monuments in the country, the history of which spans over 300 years. Since the mid-1950s it has been a major tourist attraction.
In 1569, Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian II purchased a large floodplain of the Wien river beneath a hill, situated between Meidling and Hietzing, where a former owner, in 1548, had erected a mansion called Katterburg. The emperor ordered the area to be fenced off for the court’s recreational hunting ground, and fishponds were built.
It was used as a hunting and recreation ground over the course of the next century. Eleonora Gonzaga, who loved hunting, spent much time there and was bequeathed the area as her widow’s residence after the death of her husband, Ferdinand II. From 1638 to 1643, she added a palace to the Katterburg mansion. The origins of the Schönbrunn orangery seem to go back to Eleonora Gonzaga as well. The Schönbrunn Palace in its present form was built and remodelled during the 1740–50s during the reign of empress Maria Theresa who received the estate as a wedding gift. Franz I commissioned the redecoration of the palace exterior in the neoclassical style as it appears today. The name Schönbrunn means “beautiful spring”.
“As she grew older, Maria Theresa increasingly suffered from the heat during the summer months. In the last ten years of her life she therefore had a suite furnished for herself on the ground floor of the palace at Schönbrunn, facing the gardens. She engaged the Bohemian artist Johann Wenzel Bergl to decorate the rooms, a task which took him from 1769 to 1778.
The names long used for these apartments and which still occasionally appear in the literature – Goëss Apartment (today Maria Theresa’s Summer Apartment), Crown Prince Apartment and Gisela Apartment – derive from their occupants during the second half of the nineteenth century. The rooms had to be partially restored before they could be used by the latter.
Bergl had to make do with engravings as the source for some of his motifs of flora and fauna, even though the court plant collections, steadily enriched as a result of the expeditions sponsored by Franz Stephan, contained an abundance of specimens.
This predilection for the exotic can be explained within the context of a proto-Romantic yearning for an idyllic world far removed from the constraints of etiquette. People admired the simplicity and naturalness of far-off lands and saw in them the fulfilment of their dreams of Arcadia, the land of healthy rustic mores and peaceful tranquillity.”
photos by Charles Benjamin @acroterium_