I’m not a natural-born furniture enthusiast, but still found many items in the Hofmobiliendepot (Imperial Furniture Collection) that caused my eyebrows to lift in admiration.
Here are my favorites.
- See also: Highlights of the Imperial Treasury
The best bits
A set of scales used by Empress Elisabeth (1837-1898)
The Empress (“Sisi”) obsessed over her looks and weight, and the worn-down footplate on the scales feels like a tragic reminder of the eternal battle against fat and social pressures.
Elsewhere, you also see one of the fans that Sisi hid behind to avoid the glare of public curiosity. Impressive how much you can learn about a person from a few simple household objects.
Photographs of Elisabeth
(Photograph of Empress Elisabeth by Ludwig Angerer, 1855 – 1870. Image courtesy of the Rijksmuseum)
A set of lithographs and portraits track Sisi through her life. If you know her biography from the Sisi Museum, you can almost see her inner struggles and personality in the frozen countenances. Of the many photos, there is only one where there appears to be even a trace of a smile.
Crown Prince Rudolf’s high chair
The high chair used by Sisi’s son from around 1860 is made of ebony with velvet upholstery. I always find it astonishing how even the most banal and practical of items still had to have that element of prestige about them.
Equally astonishing is the fact there appear to be no scratches and stains. I have three possible theories:
- Rudolf was a remarkably well-behaved toddler (unlikely)
- The museum restorers know their job (likely)
- The imperial family even had show versions of their children’s furniture to impress the neighbours (very possible)
Crown Prince Rudolf’s writing desk
Rudolph sadly took his own life in 1889 aged just 30. This event gives the items on his writing desk an added poignancy. Two in particular: a skull (really) and a paperweight in the form of a dead sparrow.
Franz II/I’s throne with its sphinxes and lion paw feet
It’s not the throne itself that impressed me, but the fact you can see the very same item (and its regal occupant) in an adjoining 1815 painting by Johann Peter Krafft. That is, frankly, very cool. Emperor Franz Joseph’s throne is in the museum, too. As is Emperor Josef II’s walnut and leather desk chair from the second half of the 18th century.
This direct contact with the past permeates the building.
The astonishing cabinets in the Laxenburg room
Particularly one from the late 17th century made of ebony with patterned bird inlays. I’m guessing they did not use these cabinets to store nails and leftover bits of string.
Sit on some original Biedermeier chairs, stools and sofas
(A Biedermeier side chair of the kind you can sit on. Image courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum)
The museum might be the best place in all of Vienna to view Biedermeier design.
The chairs and sofas lining one wall offer the rather delightful prospect of having your bottom pressing against genuine history, but also make a comfortable spot to take a break from the rigours of meandering round a museum.
One chair you can’t sit on from a little later in history is the unassuming Thonet No.14, which sold in its millions from around 1859 onwards.
The example in the Hofmobiliendepot might just be the oldest on display anywhere in the world, predating even the bentwood manufacturing process that made Thonet (and later iterations of the chair) so famous.
The antique chamber pots
These look suspiciously like normal kitchen pots (but it would be wise not to confuse the two).
The walk-through depot on the third floor
The side of the building opposite the pristine displays of various rooms furnished in the Biedermeier fashion features a depot of objects held in the collection – original imperial items stacked like the back of a market trader’s van.
All that power and splendour reduced to a museum footnote – on a dark, windy night, I might suggest the scene represents the futility of human existence. But let’s just say it reminds us there’s more to life than rank and wealth.