No self-respecting monarch goes about their business without a suitable hat. And the crown of the Austrian empire could not be more imperial if it had the word, Emperor, inscribed on it (which, incidentally, it does)…
- Private crown made in 1602 for Emperor Rudolf II
- Rich with gold, pearls and diamonds
- Eventually became the official crown of the Austrian Empire, founded in 1804
- See also: Imperial Treasury visitor & tickets info | Other top art in Vienna
The crown of Rudolf II
When it comes to impressive artefacts, Vienna’s Schatzkammer (Imperial Treasury) is like a chocolate shop to a child: delights everywhere and hard to say what you should pick first.
Ultimately, though, when it comes to imperial treasures, it has to be a crown.
Now, the imperial crown of the Holy Roman Empire probably counts as the most impressive from a historical perspective. It is, after all, over 1,000 years old and associated with such luminaries as Frederick Barbarossa and the great Maximilian I.
(The Crown of Rudolf II, later Crown of the Austrian Empire, Jan Vermeyen, Prague, 1602 ©KHM-Museumsverband)
But my eye falls instead on what is known as the Rudolfskrone, the private crown of Emperor Rudolf II (1552 – 1612) that eventually became the formal crown of the Austrian Empire.
This is no pragmatic headgear – a bit of spiky metal that you might toss around the throne room or wear out to dinner after a fresh conquest.
No, this crown oozes imperial self-confidence. A crown thick with gold and gemstones. A crown that makes it very clear indeed that the wearer is most definitely more important than anyone else in the room.
The Brussels-born goldsmith, Jan Vermeyen, made the crown in 1602 for Rudolf II at the latter’s Prague court.
Rudolf does not count as one of the greatest of Habsburg rulers, but he was certainly one of the greatest Habsburg collectors (and a huge patron of the arts). Many of the wonderful pieces in the Kunstkammer of Vienna’s Kunsthistorisches Museum stem from Rudolf’s collection. Other Vermeyen works also appear there, such as a rhino horn drinking vessel.
You can think of the crown as something for Rudolf’s day-to-day use, given the official crown (the Holy Roman Empire one) only appeared for coronations.
This astonishing example of the goldsmith’s art works like a hybrid between a more conventional circlet and a bishop’s mitre, thus combining the secular and divine aspects of the monarch. Dozens of pearls and diamonds decorate the circlet and central arch, the latter topped by a huge sapphire. The golden mitre depicts four aspects of Rudolf’s position in relief.
The crown had no official function as such, at least not until the founding of the Austrian Empire by Francis II/I in 1804. Then it became formally designated as the Imperial Crown of Austria.
How to get to the Imperial Crown
First, find your way to the Imperial Treasury in the Hofburg complex. Once inside, it’s hard to miss. In fact, it’s one of the very first exhibits you’ll see, displayed with orb and sceptre opposite an 1832 painting of Emperor Francis II/I in full regalia with the crown on his head.
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