Treasures of Vienna and of Learning

Treasures of Vienna and of Learning

The Smithsonian museum is said to be the attic of America.  Perhaps its Viennese elder brother would be the museums the Habsburgs displaying their diverse wealth.  Their Hofburg Palace in Vienna housed some of the most powerful people in European history—the Habsburg emperors—for over 600 years.  The Hofburg Palace was the winter residence of the House of Habsburg (Schönbrunn was the summer residence).  It is still the official residence of the President of Austria.



The world’s largest palace by floorspace,  grasping the size of the place or even finding what you are looking for stumps you because it is so large and convoluted.  It certainly eludes any tidy photo.  We walked around various parts of the extended and separated halls and museums to find where we were going.  One day we found the Spanish Riding School which is just one hall of the palace.  Another day we enjoyed a picnic on the grass of the Butterfly Garden.  The enormous Natural History Museum and Kunsthistoriches (“Art History”) Museums also belong to the palace.  The Albertina Art Museum displays Dürers and Klimts. 


We saw only a few of the pieces in the Collection of Ancient Musical Instruments.  Doesn’t everybody have one of those collections?  There are more ceremonial halls and wings than you can hit with a dead cat.  The royal family lived in the Imperial Apartments.  The oldest wing, the Swiss wing, dates from the 13th century and is named for the Swiss mercenary guards who maintained security.  I wonder if this is the same setup as what we still see of the Vatican’s Swiss guards.  The Vienna Boys’ Choir sings at High Mass here in the Chapel of the Imperial Palace.  The Hofburg covers 59 acres and constitutes 18 ranges of buildings, 54 major staircases, 2,600 rooms and still employs over 5,000 people. 



The Neue Berg (“New Palace”) portion was finished at the end of the 19th century.  Prince Eugene and Archduke Charles statues dominate the foci of the curved Neue Berg Palace .  They battled the Ottoman Turks and Napoleon, respectively.  In 1938, Hitler stood here before cheering crowds and announced the annexation of his home-country of Austria by the Third Reich.  How could the cheers happen?  A guidebook suggests that perhaps by imagining the great disappointment the Viennese might have felt as they lost their “empire” in 1918 we can begin to understand.  

Neuberg at night



Inside the Neue Berg are several museums and collections.  I’ve already shown pictures here on the blog of the Arms & Armor Museum and its extensive collections of suits of armor and weapons.  You have the impression that the museum curators are only displaying representative pieces and that there’s a whole lot more where that came from.  The suits of armor show the technical progression of armor as firearms came into being.  Some of the armor was mix and match for various tournament games and for attending ceremonies.  Much like the various golf clubs in your bag have different purposes.  Much of armor design was about impressing the ladies.  Sounds kinda familiar…


This wing of the palace holds the enormous collections but still manages to feel nearly empty.  You wander the halls getting from one place to another.  The Ephesus Museum makes you scratch your head, “what’s all this doing here?”  The items all come from the famous town of Ephesus in modern-day Turkey.  The actual Temple of Artemis is here.  By the mid-19th century the Austrians and Turks were getting along after years of terrible warfare.  Viennese archaeologists made several expeditions to Ephesus and shipped back these treasures.  Some of it was gifted by the Turks to the powerful Habsburgs.  Laws were finally changed in Turkey to stop this cultural transfer (or looting!).  The British Museum in London has some of this same feeling.  The statue of the athlete behind Ana was found in over 230 pieces and reconstructed over years.  The sculpture captures him cleaning his “stirgil”(?)—an instrument used to scrape off all the oil they’d put on their bodies for the athletic contests.  These days our athletes just rip off their jerseys…   The kids enjoyed the museum for about eight seconds, then talk turned to ice cream and if Mommy and Daddy had any immediate designs on any—right now. 



We loved the Kunsthistoriches Art History Museum. 


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Lisa’s teacher heart beamed when the kids recognized several paintings they’d studied.  Um, yeah, I knew them too…      

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Brueghel’s “The Tower of Babel” and “The Hunters in the Snow” made us want to go Holland to see more.  In his “The Hunters in the Snow “you can see aspects of winter village life (ice skating, socializing, cooking) going on as the hunters return. 

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There are works by Raphael, Rembrandt, Velazquez and Vermeer.  We could have put in hours here but time and hunger would not allow.  It made me flash back to visiting the Louvre with our aircrew during a deployment to France (I know, I even had the nerve to write that out loud).  We had about ninety minutes in the Louvre and I have memories of nearly sprinting from room to room.  It sure is fortunate that I was such an art scholar then to be able to take it all in so quickly…  Anyone have a similar experience? 



Caravaggio painted his own face on the vanquished Goliath.  He hired a homeless youth to paint him as a young David.


Vermeer’s “The Art of Painting” shows him in his studio painting a model.  You can hardly take your eyes off this one as his details draw you in.  The curtain is drawn back, bringing the viewer into the scene.



Luke really  savoring the art.

The Imperial Treasury’s artifacts were beyond belief. 


A unicorn’s horn over seven foot long stands in one corner.  Now we know it as a narwhal’s tusk. 

This cabinet holds the keys to several centuries worth of Habsburg crypts. 


Ancient Mexican artwork made entirely of feathers.


This exquisite agate bowl is thirty inches in diameter and carved from one enormous agate in Constantinople in the fourth century.  For centuries it was thought to be the most valuable of the collection.  A natural miracle apparently reveals a mysterious inscription of KRISTO (“Christ”) and likely led to the legend that it was the Holy Grail.  It is said the writing is not carved but appears in the natural veining of the stone. 


Napoleon defeated the Austro-Hungarian empire and dictated terms.  After Josephine was unable to produce a male heir he divorced her and took a wife from the defeated royal family.  This cradle was for that son, the styled “King of Rome”. 


How’d you like to lose a war to Napoleon then have him marry into your family to increase his power?  The 1805 French defeat of the Russo-Austrian army at Austerlitz ended the Holy Roman Empire.   Holy Roman Emperor Francis II abdicated the imperial throne, keeping only his official Austrian title.  This was the emperor who had to give his daughter, Marie Louise, to Napoleon for a marriage of state. 


The actual crown of Austria with impossibly fine goldsmithing detail.


The far earlier crown of the Holy Roman Emperor, from the 11th century.  IMG_6018


Charlemagne was crowned the first Holy Roman Emperor in 800.  This is (supposedly) his sabre, as the Habsburgs were eager to establish a link between their House and this esteemed leader.  



The coronation mantle for the Holy Roman Empire from the 12th century.  Made in Sicily by the finest Arabic masters of the day.  Notice the Arabic writing on the mantle.  Incredible to be looking at finely wrought, 900-year-old fabric.  There were so many other treasures and relics that one just runs out of time to see them, photograph them or write about them here. 



On the school front, Lisa has been hard at work teaching the kids for weeks now.  To prepare for Vienna, she had the great idea to study the composers so we’ve found a great app and are learning about their lives and music.  We plan to take in another concert soon. 

She is an amazing teacher and somehow manages to get it done.  The kids are studying math, grammar, writing, cursive, reading, history (which they “see” firsthand and incorporating a web-based timeline to promote context), German, Latin, geography, and Classical Conversations memorization.  They also absorb so much during our “field trips” and through osmosis over here.  The memory work they did from Classical Conversations history studies just seem to pop into their heads and out of their mouths as they see an important date in a museum and seek to place it in context.   (“In 800 Ad, Pope Leo III crowned Charlemagne …”)


Note our mobile maps on the wall behind that beautiful teacher.


Ana, while in Bavaria, staying focused.



School assignments and chore lists on the wall behind Camille, the scholar

It is quite different to be enjoying the city life compared to sleepy Bavaria.  Each time we return to our 3rd floor apartment Lisa nearly pushes the kids off the street and into the safety of our locked apartment building door.  It makes sense.  Our place looks out onto a courtyard of seven story apartment buildings. The wi-fi is better.  One night late, a “boom” goes off in the courtyard.  With our open windows, we feel it.  Luke, still wake, runs into our room with wide eyes.  People peer out their windows all across the courtyard.  It is unclear if it was something heavy being dropped off a building, a gunshot, a car backfiring, who knows.  Luke is convinced it was a gunshot.  Ah, the city life. 

I’ve been so blessed to be able to spend time many mornings going through the book of Proverbs with the kids.  After breakfast and before their school day, we sit at the table and read and talk through the Proverbs.  Finally, even I’ve noticed that it is best to tackle no more than 7-9 verses in a morning.  We have wonderful, wide-ranging discussions and I think I may be learning more than they are.  Their minds seem so open to the contrasting paths of this challenging wisdom literature.  This is something I’ve wanted to do for some time now, and it is more rewarding than I’d imagined.  I am sure I am learning alongside them.  God is good! 

Don’t get me wrong, often times we are just trying to plan that day’s afternoon!

Sometimes, you just have to get in the bath and play with some animals!   Don’t worry, they’re not all mine.


9 thoughts on “Treasures of Vienna and of Learning”

  1. See you are still enjoying your travels. God speed!

    ” The 1805 French defeat of the Russo-Austrian army at Austerlitz ended the Holy Roman Empire. Holy Roman Emperor Francis II” and Napoléon signed the peace treaty at the Primate’s Palace, or “Pink Palace”, in Bratislava. Did you get a chance to see this palace I directed your family to? The photo you sent earlier was of the National Theatre.

    1. Finch, Can’t believe you got to go there for your Officer’s Ball. I bet Sarah you guys had a blast. That palace was mind-blowing.

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