Nothing was simple about the life of Austria’s Empress Elisabeth (“Sisi”). But if you want to try and get to the bottom of her character, a special long-term exhibition at the Wagenburg carriage museum helps.
- Set of videos examining different aspects of Sisi’s life and personality
- Original items on display
- …from her coronation carriage to her bridal train
- Book Carriage Museum tickets* online
- See also:
The Empress Elisabeth trail
(Empress Elisabeth of Austria around 1855; Franz Xavier Stöber (engraver), Franz Schrotzberg (artist), F. Paterno (publisher), F. Kargl (printer), Wien Museum Inv.-Nr. W 2459, excerpt reproduced with permission under the terms of the CC0 licence)
Empress Elisabeth (1837-1898), wife of Franz Joseph, has an air of mystique about her that the decades have yet to truly penetrate. She has become an icon of history in much the same way that the UK’s Princess Diana has.
That parallel drives the Sisi trail: an exhibition about the Empress featuring various items from her life (presented inside the Wagenburg imperial carriage museum).
The exhibition includes several videos exploring the character and biography of Sisi (as she was known) from her engagement to Franz Joseph in 1853 through to her assassination in Geneva in 1898 at the age of 60.
These videos cover a lot of ground.
(Original court train and reconstruction of the gala gown from the trousseau of Duchess Elisabeth in Bavaria, the future Empress of Austria; press photo © KHM-Museumsverband)
For example, you learn about her efforts with poetry, how she developed her riding skills in England, and the psychosomatic illnesses that led her to spend so much time away from Vienna.
The videos also highlight aspects of Sisi’s life or experiences that are similar to those of Diana.
Every time I see anything about Empress Elisabeth, I’m never too sure what to think.
A woman of the people (but with thirty horses in her stables).
An ageless beauty (but with unparalleled vanity).
An object of pity (but with the wealth of an empire at her disposal)
…the Sisi glass is always half empty or half full, depending on your perspective. Whatever your feelings about her, she was certainly a fascinating individual.
(Black court dress of Empress Elisabeth; Fanny Scheiner, Vienna, c. 1885; Imperial Carriage Museum Vienna, Court Wardrobe, inv. no. N 123; © KHM-Museumsverband)
The accompanying exhibits are few, but all the more impressive for it. For example:
- The carriage (taken from a defeated Napoleon) that Elisabeth arrived in on her first visit to Vienna as the Emperor’s betrothed
- Toiletry items and accessories, like a pair of her gloves
- The carriage that took her to be crowned Queen of Hungary, and the landaulet carriage she took with her on that fateful trip to Geneva
- Her riding crop and portraits of some of those thirty horses mentioned earlier
- And for fans of period fashion…her original bridal train, a Chenille dress, and an exquisite black court dress. Check the alarmingly narrow waists!
The bridal train appears as an ensemble. The gala gown with it is a reconstruction based on an 1857 portrait painting at the Silesian National Museum that seems to match the train.
(Though experts cannot yet say with 100% certainty whether the empress wore the gown at the wedding itself in the Augustinerkirche.)
Tickets & visitor tips
It’s not a huge exhibition, but it certainly adds considerable value to your visit to the carriage museum. You just need a normal ticket for the Wagenburg to view it (available from the usual sources).
(Booking service provided by Tiqets.com*, who I am an affiliate of)
All display text is in English and German, with English subtitles for the videos.
Of course, if you’re there and interested in Sisi, then walk across to the nearby palace and take one of the tours (which include a visit to Elisabeth’s former chambers).
This article points you at many other locations related to the empress. Don’t miss, for example, the Sisi museum in the city centre, which also includes access to Elisabeth’s apartments in the central Hofburg palace complex.
Getting to the exhibition
See the main article on the carriage museum for travel tips.
Address: Schloß Schönbrunn, 1130 Vienna | Website