The present-day appearance of the Viennese Treasury is the result of a long developmental process which began in the 14th century. Back then, the secure vaults located beside the Hofburg’s Imperial Chapel were used to hold implements made of gold and silver, coins, precious stones and pieces of jewelry, as well as documents and insignia important to the House of Habsburg for the purpose of legally ensuring earthly power. Also kept were numerous relics that served as the ecclesiastical prerequisite for this power. The treasury's collection grew significantly during the 16th century, under the reign of Emperor Ferdinand I and later Rudolf II, who moved the treasures to a dedicated wing, known as the Kunsthaus. Since the 18th century, the Schatzkammer is located in the Alte Burg, and accessible from the Schweizerhof (Swiss Courtyard), the oldest inner court of the Hofburg.
It was probably at the behest of Emperor Rudolf II (who reigned from 1576 to 1612), one of the greatest collector-personalities of the House of Habsburg, that a separate wing was built on the northwest side of the Hofburg—a wing referred to as the “Kunsthaus” (Art House) – some of which still forms part of the Treasury’s exhibition rooms today. Reached by a staircase from the Swiss Court, the Schatzkammer is one of the greatest treasuries in the world. It's divided into two sections: the Imperial Profane and the Sacerdotal Treasuries. The first displays the crown jewels and an assortment of imperial riches, while the other contains ecclesiastical treasures. The Swiss Court is entered through the famous red-black Swiss Gate (Schweizertor) which displays the many titles of Emperor Ferdinand I and the insignia of the Order of the Golden Fleece.
When one has the opportunity to see Crown Jewels, more often than not the real jewels have been stripped or replaced with fakes as in the Austrian Archducal Coronet of 1764 seen above. Not so with the Austrian Crown Jewels, these are the real jewels. They are a collection of imperial regalia and jewels dating from the 10th century to the 19th. They are one of the biggest and most important collection of royal objects still today, and reflect more than a thousand years of European history. The most outstanding objects are the ancient crown of the Holy Roman Emperors and also the insignia of the much later hereditary Austrian emperors. I have decided to present three sets of jewels out of a collection that I could literally write a book about. I will present the Austrian Imperial Crown, the Imperial Orb and the Imperial Sceptor, then the 10th-century Imperial Crown of the Holy Roman Empire, and finally the regalia of the Order of the Golden Fleece. The rooms are dark and photographs are difficult, therefore, I have used properly lighted images from the Schatzkammer Wein to show the true beauty of these extraordinary historical objects.
The Imperial Crown of the Austrian Empire is one of the most important works of the European goldsmiths art. It was made in Prague in 1602 as the personal crown of Emperor Rudolf II, who had been Holy Roman Emperor since 1576. For this task the goldsmith Jan Vermeyen of Antwerp was summoned to Prague, at that time the imperial residence. One of the most artistically accomplished, beautiful and precious crowns in the world, this one was spared the fate suffered by most other personal crowns and was not broken up after the death of the monarch in 1612. The emperor's right to rule is symbolized in three principal elements, distinct in form, décor and significance: the circlet with its fleur-de-lis mounts in the shape of a royal crown (Rudolf II was the king of Bohemia and Hungary), the high ark descending from the imperial crown, and the golden mitre symbolizing the pontifical grace of God enjoyed by the emperor, who rules as the representative of Christ on earth. The rows of pearls follow the contours like an illuminating chain of lights. The incomparably precious enamel work is typical of the exquisite art at the court of Rudolf II. The imperial crown and the insignia were kept at Nuremberg and were used only for coronation ceremonies; for all other occasions the emperors had to commission personal crowns, which have survived only in illustrations. The crown made for Emperor Rudolf II expresses his sublime imperial concept and his refined sense of art. In the four spherical triangles of the golden mitre, Rudolf is depicted in his four principal offices and titles: front left, as victor over the Turks (Imperator): front right, his coronation as Holy Roman Emperor in Regensburg (Augustus); rear left, his ride up the coronation hill after his coronation as king of Hungary in Pressburg (now Bratislava, Slovakia); and rear right, the procession at his coronation as king of Bohemia in Prague. The choice and number of the stones used have allegorical and mystical significance. Eight diamonds decorate the crown: eight is a holy number referring to the octagonal body of the imperial crown; the diamond is a symbol of Christ, the invincible, whom the emperor represents on earth. In technical and artistic achievement, symbolic significance and balance of the individual elements, Vermeyen satisfied the emperor's highest demands.
The Imperial Orb follows the formal concept introduced in the Crown of Rudolph II. As in the Crown, the decoration consists of diamonds, rubies and pearls as well as a single large sapphire at the top of the cross. The wide, pearl-lined equatorial band of the Orb and the crown circlet are set with large diamonds, interspersed with pairs of pearls embedded in enamelled rosettes. The space between is filled with arabesques of enamelled gold. The enamelled bands with depictions of fruit and animals, which quarter the imperial orb vertically, are based on the bands enclosing the mitre of the Rudolphine crown, but are executed with less subtlety. The front of the cross is decorated with diamonds and rubies, while the back is covered with a rich trellis-work of enamelled gold. The crowning sapphire is drilled and without facets. It is an old jewel, perhaps from classical antiquity, and was reused here, thus suggesting the continuity of power throughout the ages. The globe of the Imperial Orb represents the world and is a symbol of the emperor's universal claim to power. Many details of the gold-work are in keeping with the style of the Scepter, which bears the signature of Andreas Osenbruck. These parallels suggest the attribution of the Imperial Orb to the same goldsmith and permit the conclusion that Emperor Matthias had it made after 1612 in order to possess a uniform set of private insignia, along with the Rudolphine Crown and Scepter. Osenbruck, the data of whose life are unknown, had previously worked for Emperor Rudolph II and was employed in November 1612 as court goldsmith to Rudolph's brother and successor, Emperor Matthias (1557-1619).
Early records state that the shaft of the present scepter was turned from the legendary “alicorn”, i.e., the horn of a unicorn. In reality, however, it is made from the tusk of a narwhal. According to legend, the unicorn could not be captured by a hunter but it placed its head in the lap of a virgin and allowed itself to be caught by her. In an extension of this myth, the maiden became the Virgin Mary, and the unicorn, which in the legend purified a poisoned well with its horn, was considered to be an image of Christ. Because of this symbolism with its reference to the power of Christ, this precious material was predestined to be a symbol of ecclesiastical and secular power.
The slender shaft of the Scepter is reinforced by an iron bar on the inside to prevent deformation by the heavy sceptre head of enamelled gold. This knob-like structure consists of curved clasps whose great variety of forms at first seems almost unintelligible to the eye. The choice of precious stones is a reference to the Rudolphine Crown. Six layers of ornamentation lie beneath the bezel settings of the main diamond clasps. The ruby clasps are designed slightly more simply. Similar to the Crown and Imperial Orb, a large sapphire serves as the crowning ornament of the Scepter. The capsule at the end of the handle bears the signature of the goldsmith: “Andreas Osenbruck fecitt Anno 1615”. For his crown, Rudolph II had still used the insignia of Emperor Ferdinand I from the 1530s. However, when Rudolph's brother and successor, Emperor Matthias (1557-1619), came to power, these were replaced by the new Sceptre by Andreas Osenbruck, who probably also created the matching Imperial Orb. In its form the Scepter resembles a mace rather than its simple predecessors and represents a uniquely virtuoso example of the goldsmith's art.
The whole thing comes together in the portrait of Emperor Franz I of Austria seen above, a very imperial portrait with the crown and scepter we have been discussing. Francis II (Franz II) was the last Holy Roman Emperor, ruling from 1792 until 1806, when he dissolved the Holy Roman Empire after the disastrous defeat of the Third Coalition by Napoleon at the Battle of Austerlitz. In 1804, he had founded the Austrian Empire and became Francis I (Franz I), the first Emperor of Austria (Kaiser von Österreich), ruling from 1804 to 1835, so later he was named the one and only Doppelkaiser (double emperor) in history. For the two years between 1804 and 1806, Francis used the title and style by the grace of God elected Roman Emperor, always August, hereditary Emperor of Austria and he was called the Emperor of both Germany and Austria. He was also Apostolic King of Hungary, Croatia and Bohemia as Francis I. He also served as the first president of the German Confederation following its establishment in 1815. After the adoption of the regalia of the Austrian Empire the Imperial Crown of the Holy Roman Empire became a historical relic and was no longer used.
This is the Imperial Crown of the Holy Roman Empire. The story of the crown’s creation has been lost in myth but it was most likely constructed by a jewelsmith somewhere in Western Germany during the late 10th century (probably during the reign of Otto I). The Imperial Crown, was kept in Nuremberg from 1424–1796. In 1796, Napoleon was marching on Nuremberg. The crown was moved first to Regensberg before Franz II, the last Holy Roman Emperor, had the crown “temporarily” removed to Vienna. After Napoleon’s crushing victory at the battle of Austerlitz, Franz dissolved the Holy Roman Empire (but held onto the crown, which became a historical relic). The crown was returned to Nuremberg by Nazis after the Anschluss of 1938. When American forces took Nuremberg, the U.S. graciously returned the crown to Austria (although it would probably look very nice in the Smithsonian). At present the Imperial Crown of the Holy Roman Empire is with the Austrian Crown Jewels, which are kept under guard at the Hofburg in Vienna, “until there is again a Holy Roman Emperor of the German Nation”.
Eight hinged plates form the octagonal body of the imperial crown. Four smaller plates bear pictorial representations from the Old Testament in cloisonné enamel; the four main plates of differing sizes are decorated solely by precious stones and pearls in raised settings. The programmatic theological concept can be recognised in the more prominent of the four stone-encrusted plates. The twelve precious stones on the brow plate correspond to the number of the Apostles. The twelve stones on the neck plate refer to the pectoral of the Jewish high priest; they are engraved with the names of the twelve tribes of Israel. In the place of the heart-shaped sapphire at the top of the arch of the brow plate, there was once the “Waise. The stone was last mentioned in an inventory of 1550; it later vanished. The cloisonné enamel plaques are symbolically related to one another. The prophets included in these inscriptions hold banderoles inscribed with their own quotations explaining their relationship to one another. All of the biblical texts in the inscriptions are also quotations from the coronation liturgy, as laid down in the Ordo of 960. Only on the Maiestas Domini plate is there a quotation (Proverbs 8:15) instead of an inscription; a revelation of the pre-existing Christ and ruler of the universe of the Old Testament. Like his son and successor, Solomon, David, both king of Israel and prophet, symbolizes justice; Solomon symbolizes wisdom and the fear of God; Isaiah prophesies a further fifteen years of life to King Hezekiah, lying on his deathbed, for his pious prayers to God. God shows mercy to the king by prolonging his life and destroying his enemies. This crown is regarded as an imperial symbol representing in a suitably formal fashion the self-confidence of the Ottonian dynasty, endowed with the divine right of kings.
The Order of the Golden Fleece was established in 1430, by Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy, in celebration of the prosperous and wealthy domains united in his person that ran from Flanders to Switzerland. This was the height of Valois-Burgundy and the Order went to the Habsburgs with the breakup of the Burgundy domains after the death of Charles the Bold in 1477 without an heir. It is composed of the senior Spanish branch and the Junior Austrian branch. It is restricted to a limited number of knights, initially 24 but increased to 30 in 1433, and 50 in 1516, plus the sovereign.
The chain of arms consists of a neck chain of the order and a collar made up of 26 pairs of convex, slightly trapezoid-shaped plates, arranged in two horizontal rows. Each plate serves as a frame into which an armorial plaque can be inserted. The pairs of plates are joined to each other by hinges, which in turn are fastened to the collar's flints. The armorial plaques are interchangeable so that all living members of the order can be represented on the Potence with their arms; however, this rule was not always observed. Two armorial plaques were reserved for the sovereign, indicating a total of 51 knights of the order, the number ordained by Emperor Charles V (of Spain) at the chapter meeting of 1516. The sovereign's two plaques display the arms and emblem of Charles V above and his motto “PLUS OULTRE” (“further beyond”) below. Charles's maxim is illustrated by the two so-called Pillars of Hercules, representing the cliffs of Ceuta and Gibraltar and thus the Spanish heritage. But Gibraltar also marks the western boundaries of the Old World, and with his motto Charles expressed his intent of extending his rule “further beyond”, which he did in the New World. The potence replaced an older chain of arms with 16 links, representing the previous number of 31 knights of the order (16 x 2 = 32, indicating 31 members, since the sovereign required two plates). It was worn on festive occasions by the so-called king-at-arms, the head of the order's heralds.
I am going to close here, I can honestly say the Austrian Imperial Crown is one of the most beautiful objects I have ever seen. If you are in Vienna, the Austrian Imperial Treasury is a must see and there are many more outstanding objects in the Treasury.
Tour my Country: http://www.tourmycountry.com/austria/schatzkammertreasury.htm