Where others might get a sweater or new tie for that special occasion, the 15th, 16th and 17th-century male aristocracy got a new suit of armour. And a lot of that armour now graces the Neue Burg wing of the Hofburg palace as the Hofjagd und Rüstkammer (Imperial Armoury).
- Massive array of (mostly) ceremonial and tournament armour and hand weapons
- Many breathtaking items on display
- Layout and approach rather like an art museum (this is not an educational journey)
- Item descriptions almost all in German, unfortunately
- Part of the Weltmuseum complex
- Free entry with a Vienna Pass, Skip-the-line online tickets* available
- See also: Hofburg Palace | The Weltmuseum
The Arms and Armour collection
(Vienna’s Weltmuseum houses the Imperial Armoury)
You know those mounted knights you find as toys with wooden castles? The Imperial Armoury is the grown-up version with full-scale models in the actual gear made for Kings and Emperors.
The armoury draws together armour and weapons from various Imperial collections, the original items having been gathered through gifts, diplomatic exchanges, special commissions, and purchases. A special nod of thanks (and the wave of a heavily-decorated sword) goes to the avid art collector and 16th-century Archduke of Austria, Ferdinand II.
The amount of armour and weapons on display is rather impressive – sweeping lines of silvered knights and horses, cabinets full of golden-hilted swords, and rows of guns with more decorative elements than a Renaissance chapel ceiling.
As you examine the plates, bolts and all sorts of weird and wonderful armoured accoutrements, you might wonder how they were made. How did the owners even get into them? And how did their design relate to their performance or impact?
Those questions aren’t really answered. Instead, think of the Imperial Armoury as a historical record or an art museum.
As such, there is little insight into the mechanics of war or battle. What you do get, though, is a clear impression of arms and armour as a form of aristocratic marketing…as a symbol of prestige. Armour as the medieval power suit. Armour as a projection of strength, wealth, and authority. Armour as an outlet for extraordinary craftsmanship.
All the above comes across through the elegance of the metalwork and the exquisite ornamentation seen in Sauronesque gauntlets, decorated falconry hoods, ornate gun barrels and the custom sets made for the likes of Philip II of Spain or Emperor Charles V.
(You can tell much of the armour is custom, because some are very clearly made for gentlemen who have overindulged on the mead and venison.)
Perhaps the biggest highlight is the total impression – the assemblage represents the pinnacle of craftsmanship in the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries in particular. But here are my personal highlights from an afternoon of browsing…
One room, in particular, forms part of the great curving inner wing of the Neue Burg, full of marbled walls and decorated arched ceilings that seem to go on endlessly. It’s a glorious location, and an apt one for displaying tournament knights and horses in full regalia, with plumed helmets and matching caparisons for the horses (the caparison is the cloth covering the horse. And, yes, I had to look that up).
Also look out for:
- An ornate mace with built-in chess board, sundial, and compass. Like a 15th-century smartphone.
- Extremely elegant armour for Emperor Maximilian I with remarkably long pointed sabatons (foot armour) that Rosa Klebb would have killed for. (I’m guessing the Emperor never had to climb any stairs in that particular outfit.)
- Emperor Frederick III’s horse armour, complete with steampunk-style double-headed Habsburg eagle
- A room of “show” items, with, for example, extraordinarily-decorated armour for Henry III of France and a sword with a coral hilt
- 16th and 17th-century guns with detailed metal or bone inlays, shell-covered stocks, and locks crafted into the shape of dragons or serpents
- The tournament armour of Archduke Ferdinand II, with a plume of feathers that would drive a Las Vegas showgirl to tears of jealousy
- A set of Samurai armour from around 1700, as part of a Habsburg oriental and Islamic armour collection
- A multi-piece set of matching tournament armour for Emperor Maximilian II, so he could stay on brand whatever particular style of combat he was undertaking
- The black armour illustrative of the last few years of the knight era, inevitably calling to mind the Black Knight of Monty Python fame
Tickets & visitor tips
- Almost all written exhibit information was in German on my visit, bar the occasional item tags and one or two video presentations. Audioguides to selected items are available.
- Neighbouring rooms house the historical instruments collection (also part of the same institution). Don’t mix the two up – you don’t want to fend off a rampaging armoured Hungarian with nothing but a violin and a small container of rosin.
(P.S. If you’d like to see medieval arms and armour in action, then Vienna’s Museum of Military History hosts a medieval weekend in the summer.)
How to get to the Imperial Armoury
The Armoury sits on the first floor of the Weltmuseum, which is actually two floors up from the entrance area and atrium.
The Weltmuseum resides on Heldenplatz, the huge square in the city centre flanked by the president’s offices and other important buildings. So you’ll probably pass through it on your sightseeing travels. See here for travel tips for the museum.
Address: Heldenplatz, 1010 Vienna | Website