{Austria} Imperial Furniture Collection

October 17, 2014

Austria

Growing up in Germany through my teenage years, it was near to impossible not to fall under the spell of ‘Sissi’. Based on the life of Empress Elisabeth (known as ‘Sisi’ – the difference in spelling is not a typo), one of the most fascinating figures in Austrian history, this trilogy of lavish period drama from the 1950s, which catapulted the actress Romy Schneider to world fame, captured every young girl’s imagination.

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For fans of Sis(s)i, Vienna is a dream destination. Schönnbrunn Palace on the edge of the city, one of the Imperial family’s favoured summer seats, features heavily in the movies and is worth a day trip (though be prepared for long ticket Qs during the tourist season), and of course there is the Sisi Museum, located within the Vienna Hofburg, the former centre of the Habsburg Empire. I had visited both places on a previous trip to Vienna in 2007, but in conversation with Austrian travel expert @Travelwriticus on Twitter, it emerged that I had missed out the final destination for Sisi enthusiasts – the Imperial Furniture Collection (Hofmobiliendepot: Möbel Museum Wien).

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However, this is no ordinary furniture collection, but a fascinating glimpse into the personal life of the Imperial family and 19th Century high society. The ‘Court Depot of Movables’ was first established in 1747 to manage not only the Imperial furniture but also all related interior decorations such as lighting and floor coverings. Until the early 19th Century, palaces were not furnished all year round and only equipped whilst members of the court were in residence, with as many as 100 carriages loaded with moveables travelling ahead with a quartermaster and interior decorators.

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The depot acted as a storage facility as well as a workshop for damaged items to be repaired. Temporarily dissolved in the second half of the 19th Century, it was revived in 1902 after completion of a new building. Today it fulfils the functions of repairing, storing and exhibiting the collection, which includes around 165,000 objects as well as still furnishing the rooms of highest public offices for state functions and lending objects to national and international exhibitions.

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The exhibits stretch across several floors in roughly chronological order, starting with the 18th Century travelling courts and ending with the modern furniture collection which was added when the museum was remodelled and expanded in 1998. A room crammed full of similar furniture items, candelabras, and decorative busts is intended to give the impression of a store room – harking back to the museum’s previous function as a dept – and demonstrates the collection’s unique status somewhere between ‘valuable historic exhibits’ and ‘attic junk’.

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The first floor is dedicated to ‘Imperial Interior’, evoking “the world of gracious imperial living with original pieces of Habsburg furniture”, showing both personal items and well as the general interior design style of those times. Here, various members of the former imperial family make an appearance, such as Imperial Field Marshall Prince Eugene of Savoy, Empress Maria Theresa – who took an active role in redesigning and decorating palaces – or Emperor Franz II/I and his various wives.

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The second floor has a big emphasis on the Biedermeier era, with a series of alcoves showcasing the development of the era up to 1848. There are also displays focusing on kitchen and sanitary furniture, and both the private and Viennese coffee house culture of smoking. While the majority of exhibit pieces are off limits, there is one corridor lined with chairs inviting visitors to take a seat.

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And one of the most interesting exhibits, I found, was the workshop room which showed the process of upholstery – e.g. via a dissected chair – as well as techniques such as gilding and wood mosaics.

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Finally, for all Sissi fans, there is a section dedicated to the afore mentioned movies including both furniture from the sets – for which furniture was borrowed from the ‘Hofmobiliendepot’ to lend the films “a touch of historical flair”, as well as other film props and original directors chairs. All against the backdrop of stills showing scenes from the movies.

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The Imperial Furniture Collection is located at Andreasgasse 7 and is open Tuesdays to Sundays. Up-to-date opening hours and admission prices can be found on the museum website.

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