The Schatzkammer (Imperial Treasury) houses the crown jewels. Literally crowns and jewels. And much more.
- Split into secular (royal) and ecclesiastical treasures
- Gemstones the size of goose eggs and crowns the size of Europe
- Many items of unique historical interest
- Alleged relics include a nail from the crucifixion of Jesus Christ
- See also: Imperial treasury tickets and visitor info
As my son put it…if you’re a royal with money, you want what the other royals have, but bigger and more expensive.
My wife claims all the grandeur is simply needed for representational and propaganda purposes.
And I wonder if the Emperors were just compensating for something.
Anyway, prepare for a feast of Imperial treasure in the true meaning of the term. Here are my favourites from the Schatzkammer collection…
(An excerpt from the 1915 painting by Josef Pögl of Kaiserin Maria Theresia, with various Habsburg crowns. Photo by Johannes Stoll and © Belvedere, Wien. Reproduced with permission under the terms of Creative Commons License CC BY-SA 4.0.)
A crown should be all gold, diamonds, rubies and sapphires, with delicate enamel designs and imperial scenes in relief. Just like the 1602 crown of Rudolf II that became the Habsburg imperial crown. This forms, perhaps, the centrepiece of the Imperial Treasury.
Exhibits like this rather-impressive headwear provide a direct link to the past. A link made even more tangible when the items on display also appear in old paintings hanging nearby.
For example, Rudolf’s crown, orb, and scepter feature in the famous 1832 van Amerling portrait of Emperor Francis II/I that adorns the wall in the same gallery.
Francis looks tired, as if he knows the dynasty is on borrowed time (less than 90 years until its end, actually). Oh, and the mantle around his shoulders is in the neighbouring room.
Other Habsburg highlights:
- The 1496 ceremonial sword of Emperor Maximilian I, with its remarkable designs along the blade
- The Ainkhüm sword from the early 15th century, whose scabbard is a narwhal tusk (believed back then to be the actual horn of a unicorn)
- The garments associated with the chivalric Order of the Golden Fleece, including an original chain of the order from the mid-15th century
(The garments are but one of many treasures from the rich Burgundian part of the early Habsburg dominions.)
Ah, but what about the jewels part of the idea of crown jewels? Well, how about…
- A 1641 vessel made from a 2,680 carat emerald
- The 1687 Hyacinth “la Bella”, a huge garnet the size of a goose egg
- An 1818/19 rose bush made of gold
- A silver and gold egg cup that once belonged to France’s Louis XVI
A particular treasure from later Habsburg times is the throne cot presented to the second wife of Napoleon (Marie Louise – daughter of the Emperor of Austria) for her son.
The “Cradle of the King of Rome” holds over a quarter of a ton of precious metals in it. Can’t help but feel that a kid sleeping in that is going to grow up with a certain amount of pressure in terms of expectations.
Treasures from the Holy Roman Empire
The Holy Roman Emperor was also a Habsburg for almost the entire period from 1452 to its 1806 dissolution.
Among the treasures from that particular European institution:
- The robes worn by the King of Bohemia when electing the Holy Roman Emperor, made around 1625-1650
- The silk coronation mantle from 1133/34, which enveloped the shoulders of many iconic monarchs
- The Imperial crown of the Holy Roman Emperor, dating back to 960-980. Albrecht Dürer’s famous 1512(?) painting of Charlemagne, wearing the very same crown, hangs nearby.
Not all of Dürer’s painting is accurate; Charlemagne died in 814, so the first Holy Roman Emperor didn’t wear this particular headpiece, for example.
Other items from close to Charlemagne’s time are on display, allegedly removed from his tomb…
- The Imperial gospels from ca. 800
- The sabre of Charlemagne from the early 10th century
- St. Stephen’s Burse reliquary from the early 9th century
The list of items gives me goosebumps: a confluence of history, priceless materials and exquisite workmanship.
And, at the same time, all a reminder that one day the crown is on your head, the next it’s being gawped at by an Englishman whose primary concern is whether he can justify eating a second chocolate ice cream later.
The Imperial Treasury also houses an ecclesiastical collection, which begins with two unique items from the “do-not-ever-sell” category of the Habsburg treasures:
- The largest carved agate bowl in the world, produced in the 4th century. Apparently the word “Christ” is inscribed in Greek letters in the actual (natural) substance of the stone, though it takes more imagination than I’ve got to see it
- A narwhal tusk from the early-16th century, believed to be (like the Ainkhüm sword) from a unicorn
The remaining ecclesiastical exhibits consist mainly of reliquaries presented in beautiful wooden cabinets topped with golden decoration. I believe these may be the original display cabinets from the time of Emperor Franz Joseph. They include various alleged Christian relics:
- A piece of wood from Jesus Christ’s manger
- A tooth from John the Baptist
- A piece of the tablecloth used at the Last Supper
- A nail used to pin Jesus’s hand to the cross
- Thorns from the crown he wore on that cross
- A snippet of Jesus’s loincloth
- ..and many more of this nature
Of course, one can argue about authenticity and I leave that debate to those with more expertise. By the way, if you wish to see more Christian relics, can I recommend the cathedral treasury of Stephansdom?
How to get to the Imperial Treasury
Follow the advice on the main Schatzkammer page.
Address: Schweizerhof, Hofburg, 1010 Vienna