Although an art museum, the Albertina also offers a behind-the-scenes look at the lifestyle of the 19th-century aristocracy.
- Around 20 fully-restored palace rooms with glorious fittings and furnishings
- Self-guided stateroom tour included in a normal entrance ticket
- Detailed information displays in German and English
- See also: Albertina tickets & visitor tips | Hofburg Palace tour | Schönbrunn Palace tours
History of the Albertina
The Albertina began life as the Tarouca Palace in the early 1740s, then became a formal Habsburg residence in the 1790s; the Emperor made a present of it to his son-in-law and daughter (Duke Albert of Saxe-Teschen and Archduchess Marie Christine). Certainly beats a spa voucher and a bottle of wine.
(Albert and his art collection provided the basis for both the name of today’s institution and what we see in the galleries.)
Various inheritances then saw the palace pass to Archduke Carl, Archduke Albrecht, and Archduke Friedrich (yes, there are a lot of Archdukes in Austrian history).
(A portrait of Archduke Albrecht. Image courtesy of the Rijksmuseum)
All these owners did their bit to extend or refurbish the building. The Republic of Austria eventually took over in 1919, after the monarchy ended.
A ticket to the Albertina includes access to about 20 staterooms away from the art displays.
If some bits look almost like new, it’s because they are. Blame WWII bombs, which destroyed extensive parts of the property. So what you see is a mix of original and restored (but historically accurate) rooms and furnishings.
As part of the renovation project, the Albertina brought (or bought) back the original furniture, including many early 19th-century pieces from Danhauser – a forerunner of today’s department store.
(The Danhauser factory would take care of all interior decoration, so you could order everything from one place.)
The self-guided tour takes you through bedrooms and ballrooms, studies and Spanish apartments, and much more, offering insights into royal life away from the twin pillars of Vienna’s Habsburg tourism: Empress Maria Theresa (and husband Franz) and Emperor Franz Joseph (and wife Elisabeth).
Excellent information displays in both German and English give you an understanding of the contents and historical context of each room, plus background on associated personalities (like those Archdukes).
The highlights for me were:
- The pillared hallway, lined with a series of Roman busts and a long red carpet. It’s practically the first thing you see and sets a regal, classic tone for your visit
- A gorgeous porcelain table from Sèvres. A gift from Marie Antoinette, it depicts Armida and Rinaldo from Tasso’s epic 16th-century poem, Gerusalemme liberata
Many people (cough, me) don’t realise that Marie Antoinette was “Austrian” and a Habsburg Archduchess – the 15th child of Maria Theresa. The Empress married off her daughter to the future King Louis XVI as a purely political move designed to seal an alliance between France and Austria.
- The Hall of the Muses, a 19th-century ballroom with plaster marble walls, a 3m fire-gilt chandelier and life-size statues of Apollo and the nine muses
- Inlaid wooden writing desks topped by Wedgwood basalt busts. The kind of desks to use for signing proclamations or sending urgent correspondence warning of a revolutionary plot against a royal cousin in a foreign land
- The Teesalon, thanks to the connection to the alleged story behind the Teebutter name used for quality butter in Austrian supermarkets.
(A Wedgwood basalt bust of the kind you will see in the Albertina staterooms. Image courtesy of the Rijksmuseum)
As you go round, be sure to…
- Look at the walls: no cheap wallpaper here – it’s mostly silk all the way with stylish wall linings in various colours. So you go from green to red to yellow and so on as you move through the rooms
- Look at the mirrors, lighting and windows – the artful arrangement often creates a nice effect, such as seeming to make a room bigger, or drawing the eye to a particular feature
And once you’re done, go on through to the Albertina’s next delight – the permanent art exhibition.