In a corner of the Altburg – the old castle – is the Schatzkammer, the imperial treasury where all the great treasures are on display. These are not just the treasures of Austria itself but of the Autro-Hungarian Empire, indeed of the Holy Roman Empire which continued to exist until it was dissolved by Napoleon in 1806.
Some of the treasures go back to the beginnings of the Holy Roman Empire founded by Charlemagne in AD 800: indeed some of the finest go back to the 9th and 10th centuries. Many of them however are later. Perhaps by English standards we might consider them to be a little over-the-top: the Victorians had nothing on the artistic excesses of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Here we show just a few of the treasures.
This is the crown of the Holy Roman Empire. The original crown is thought to be 9th or 10th century. The cross was perhaps added somewhat later. originally this was kept in Nuremburg with most of the rest of the treasure, but it was brought to Vienna in the 19th century. Hitler took it back to Nuremburg but after the War it was restored to Vienna.
This is St Stephen’s purse which is one of the great early treasures. This is a reliquary, that is a box for containing a holy relic, the type was very popular in the 9th and 10th century. This one dates to the 9th century and came originally from Hungary where St Stephen is their patron saint. However, it became one of the insignia of the Holy Roman Empire and was kept in the other great collection at Aachen. Artistically this is for me the most satisfying of all the pieces in the Schatzkammer.
According to tradition this originally contained earth soaked in the blood of the first Christian martyre.
This is the other spectacular crown, but as far as I can make out it is not an imperial crown but the crown of Prince Stephen Bocskay, the rebel King of Hungary from 1605 and champion of the Protestants.
The Order of the Golden Fleece was an exclusive order of chivalry founded in around 1430 and this is part of the Burgandian treasure which came into Hapsburg hands in 1477 when the Emperor Maximilan I married the daughter of the Duke of Burgandy.
Among the most spectacular treasures is a collection of half a dozen Mass robes, that is the robes worn by the Emperors when they went to Mass. Here is the photo of one of them – but see a detailed panel below.
One wonders how many lifetime’s work went into producing just one of these Mass robes.
One of the most spectacular pieces is this gold ewer on a gold plate. What should we really think of this? Is it the most appalling kitsch? Or is it really rather magnificent in its overblown opulence?
There are many pieces like this in the Schatzkammer which constantly challenge your artistic sensibilities as to whether we really like them or not and what we really think of the Austro-Hungarian Empire for which they were produced