Sisi – Woman & Empress
Numerous exhibits from the Empress Elisabeth collection of the Schönbrunn Group, some of which have never been shown before, give authentic insights into the life of the multifaceted Empress, far from clichés and myths.
The Schönbrunn Group has been able to continuously expand its in-house collection over the past 20 years through a targeted purchasing policy. Around 400 objects are now being presented to the public as part of an exhibition.
Under the title “Sisi - Woman & Majesty”, the exhibition in the Niederweiden hunting lodge, which is part of the Schloss Hof Estate, bring guests closer to Elisabeth’s fascinating personality. Apart from the common clichés and myths surrounding Elisabeth, the exhibits give authentic insights into the life of the extraordinary Empress, who still casts a spell on many people today.
Parasols, fans and veils were typical accessories intended to shield the Empress and at the same time they promoted biographical myths. Elisabeth created the image of an eternally young beauty and misunderstood outsider at the Viennese court. She was educated, liberal, interested in culture and languages, athletic, courageous and emancipated. To a large extent she was able to realize her ideas and wishes..
In later years the Empress became melancholy due to many blows of fate like deaths within her family and withdrew more and more into solitude. She started to write poems and to philosophize on the meaning of life. She went on long journeys to the Mediterranean area interrupted by several stays at spa resorts in Austria, Hungary, Germany and Switzerland.
1During a stay in Geneva in 1898 Elisabeth fell victim to a political assassination. This violent death created her legend which lives on until today.
What she was really like, what was so attractive and captivating about her, no sculptor’s chisel or artist’s brush can render; that was entirely distinctive to herself. She will live on in legend, not in history.
Countess Fürstenberg on the assassination of Empress in 1898
Fact & Figures
Curated by: Olivia Lichtscheidl and Michael Wohlfart
More than 400 exhibits from the collection of the Schönbrunn Group are on display.
Empress Elisabeth with star jewellery in a white tulle dress and black-gold lace overskirt. Oil painting by Josef Matthias Aigner, 1868
The main motif of the exhibition is the portrait of Empress Elisabeth, painted by Matthias Aigner. The portrait of the Empress impresses on the one hand with its great resemblance to the famous painting by Franz Xaver Winterhalter, but on the other hand shows strong differences in her ball gown. Aigner did not paint stars, but dots and added a black lace overskirt and golden appliqué to the white dress.
Archduchess Sophie on her deathbed. Watercolour by Barabás Miklós, 1857
The death of her first-born daughter Sophie was a decisive and harrowing experience for Elisabeth, which changed the young mother greatly. For many years she did not allow her motherly love. In order not to experience such terrible pain again, she kept her distance from her two other children, Gisela and Rudolf. The watercolor of her firstborn on the deathbed was always placed in her private living room. She only allowed herself to love a child dearly again with her youngest daughter Marie Valerie.
The imperial family with the newborn Crown Prince Rudolf. Old Viennese Porcelain, 1858
One of the most important tasks of the young imperial couple was to produce descendants in order to secure the future of the dynasty. In the first years of their marriage, they had three children: Sophie (1855), Gisela (1856) and Rudolf (1858). Ten years later a fourth child was born, Marie Valerie (1868). Although everyone was happy about every healthy girl, the birth of the male heir to the throne was something special. The porcelain group with the newborn Crown Prince Rudolf, parents and grandparents was created for this occasion.
Table mirror owned by Empress Elisabeth
The mirror is on the one hand a sign of vanity, but on the other hand it also symbolizes self-knowledge, wisdom and truth. All of these characteristics apply to the empress. The mirror or the mirror image shows Elisabeth, the most beautiful monarch in Europe, who devoted many hours of the day to caring for her skin, hair and figure. But it also shows a seeker and a researcher. A woman who questioned a lot, who eyed her surroundings critically and held up a mirror to court society in her poems.
The wardrobe of Empress Elisabeth
Elisabeth’s outfits always consisting of several parts like separate skirts and tops, often had a blouse-like flair. Her tops were designed as little jackets or Figaro jackets. Between top and skirt, she wore a wide or narrow belt, depending on the fashion. Chased clasps and artfully crafted buttons broke the severe simplicity of her dresses. Further typical features of Elisabeth’s dresses were long sleeves falling to her slender hands, high standing collars and skirts with a wide hem in order to facilitate her freedom of leg movement when walking. Accessories such as fans, hats, face veils and parasols complemented her outfits. “With these she shielded her eyes from the sun and her face from inquisitive gazes”, wrote Elisabeth’s lady in waiting, Countess Sztáray.
Travel toilet set owned by Empress Elisabeth, made by Charles Odiot in Paris
The Empress’s travels are well documented in numerous publications, but not her luggage. All the more interesting are the pieces of luggage that have been preserved, because they tell their own story. Three pieces of luggage belong to the travel toilet set of Elisabeth. When opening the heavy wooden cases, one finds the nine-part travel toilet set embedded in red velvet: a table mirror, a hand mirror, a washbasin, a water jug with cover, a pair of soap dishes, a powder box and a pair of candlesticks. The parts made of silver are decorated with the double placed and finely engraved and crowned initial E.
The crowned E
Clothing labels and monograms prove that preserved pieces of clothing are from the original wardrobe of the Empress. Therefore, the crowned E as well as the crowned dolphin can be found in the dresses, depending on whether the piece of clothing was thought for Corfu or any other of Elisabeth’s properties.
Posthumous portrait of Empress Elisabeth. Oil painting by Leopold Horowitz, 1899
After Elisabeth’s death, Emperor Franz Joseph commissioned posthumous portraits by the painters Josef Arpád Koppay, Gyula Benczúr and Leopold Horowitz. According to the wish of the widower, the artists should show the deceased with youthful face. As a memento of the empress, the monarch gave these portraits to the Hungarian ladies in waiting of his deceased consort. In connection with the creation of the painting by Leopold Horowitz, the artist reported that an atelier had been set up for him in the Vienna Hofburg by order of the emperor so that he could seek advice from the emperor at any time. The Empress’s youngest daughter, Marie Valerie, found this portrait to be the best representation of her mother in her mature years.
Sisi – Woman & Majesty
March 13th to October 26th, 2021
Schloss Niederweiden – part of the Schloss Hof Estate location
Exhibition website with visitor information:
A special exhibition of the Schönbrunn Group under the executive management of Klaus Panholzer.