Antonio Canova: Theseus vanquishing the centaur Phereus, marble sculpture, photograph, c. 1875

The Habsburg monument cult

or who gets to be commemorated?


Little commemorates the people who populated the Habsburg Monarchy – in contrast to those who ruled over them. The power of memory belongs to the ‘greats’, the ‘heroes’, principally men. Generals and rulers as the guardians of order and preservers of tradition dominate the public monumental art of the late Habsburg Monarchy. Architecture also reflects the conservative trend: currents of opposition were to be neutralized by drawing on the vocabulary of antiquity. Yet the aspiring middle classes are also keen to commemorate and be commemorated. The Ringstrasse emerges as an arena of this defining struggle: the buildings and monuments lining this boulevard symbolize both the claim to power of the ruling dynasty and the increasing influence of the bourgeoisie.

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