The reign of Louis XIV was absolute, and it lasted 70 years (1643 to 1715). Louis inspired Europe’s ruling families to emulate his unbelievable success. A tangible symbol of his success was the enlargement of the palace and gardens at Versailles, setting a new standard for Europe. Country palaces and gardens were enlarged by several Austrian, German, and Russian monarchs. Andre Le Notre’s garden design at Versailles influenced these gardens. The Schoenbrunn Palace outside Vienna became a part of the Hapsburg properties in 1569, when Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian II purchased the small Kattenburg mansion for use as a hunting lodge. Schoebrunn was passed down through the Hapsburg family, and each new owner reorganized and added to the palace and gardens
The origin of palace garden design started with the Villa of Hadrian (118 to 134 CE). Hadrian’s garden influenced Pirro Ligorio’s design for the Villa d’Este (1569 to 1577). Andre Le Notre continued the tradition with his garden design for Versailles (1661 to 1682). The elaborate garden symbolized the glory of the reign of Louis XIV.
When Emperor Ferdinand II died in 1637, the Schoenbrunn became the residence of his widow Eleonora Gonzaga. The name Schoenbrunn (beautiful spring) was first found on an invoice dated 1642. Unfortunately, the chateau was destroyed by the Turks in 1693.
Emperor Leopold I commissioned Johann Fischer von Erlach (1693), popular with the Hapsburgs and builder of many buildings in Austria, to build a new grand lodge for his son Joseph I. Leopold instructed that the palace should rival Versailles. Von Erlach drew up two plans, and the second was accepted in 1695-96. The palace was finished in 1711 with 1,441 rooms. Jean Trehet, a student of Andre Le Notre, designed the gardens that cover more than three-quarters of a square mile. Emperor Charles VI inherited the palace and gave it to his daughter Empress Maria Theresa (reign 1740-1780). After her husband Emperor Francis I died, she made Schoenbrunn her primary residence. She is responsible for the design of the palace and grounds as they exist today.
A large courtyard is surrounded by several outbuildings such as the stables. Two fountains represent the lands of the Empire of Austria, Galacia, Lodemeria, and Transylvania. Behind the palace is the Great Parterre (1776-1780). A gravel path is divided into eight sections of symmetrical gardens, including 32 sculptures that represent deities and virtues important to the Hapsburgs. Visible beyond the lawns is the circular Fountain of Neptune, and in the distance the Gloriette.
God of the sea, Neptune stands holding his trident at the center of the fountain in front of his seashell chariot. He is surrounded by tritons (mermen, demigods of the sea) riding rearing hippocampi (winged sea horses). Neptune is the Roman name for the Greek god of the sea Poseidon. The Hapsburgs were the legitimate descendants of the title Holy Roman Emperor (King of the Romans), the title granted to Charlemagne by Pope Leo III in 800 CE. The Hapsburgs also believed they were the descendants of the ancient Roman Empire and chose to celebrate the Roman gods in sculptures.
At the top of the fountain, Thetis kneels before Neptune and pleads with him to keep her son Achilles safe in the coming Trojan war. Austria is a land-locked country, but did maintain a strong navy when the Austria-Hungary alliance was formed in 1786. The choice of Neptune by Empress Maria Theresa is an open question. It is speculated that her tribute to Neptune, like Thetis, sought Neptune’s protection.
The last structure on the Great Parterre is the Gloriette (1775). The Gloriette was included in Fischer von Erlach’s design for the Schoenbrunn, and was built by Johann Ferdinand Hetzendorf von Hohenberg. Maria Theresa’s idea was the Gloriette should represent “Just War,” fought only as a necessity to achieve peace. She ordered the use of stones that were left from the nearly demolished palace near-by. The center structure is a triumphal arch. The eagle on top is part of the Hapsburg coat-of-arms and symbolizes both the Roman Empire and the Austrian Empire.
Johann Ferdinand Hetzendorf von Hohenberg also designed the Roman Ruins (1778) in the garden. They sometimes were called the “Ruins of Carthage,” a reference to the defeat of Hannibal by the Romans in the Second Punic War in 146 BCE, when they sowed salt into the land so nothing would grow. Building fake ruins was a romantic idea that became popular in the 18th Century. Von Hohenberg’s design was based on the temple of Vespasian and Titus, excavated in 1756. The structure was built with more recycled stones from the nearby palace. A ruined triumphal arch is supported by crumbling walls. A fountain in the center of a square pool depicts two river gods of the Danube and the Enns Rivers. Fragments of sculptures depict stories of the victories of Hercules (Greek Heracles).
Andre Le Notre’s garden designs also included orangeries for growing of oranges and other fruit trees. Schoenbrunn also had a Palmenhaus, a greenhouse for tropical plants. Built by Emperor Franz Joseph I in 1745. It was destroyed, and the present Palmenhaus was built in 1882. Palmenhauses were status symbols. The Schoebrunn’s is one of the largest palmenhauses in the world at 360 feet long, 92 feet wide, and 82 feet tall, with 45,000 glass panels. In 1882 railroads and railway stations were being built all over Europe. These enormous structures were constructed of the new building materials cast iron and glass. Ignaz Gridl, architect of the Palmenhaus, employed this new method of construction.
Walking through the winding paths of the Palmenhaus is a gardener’s dream. Not only are the 4500 species spectacular, but also the creative use of iron lends the structure its own elegance.
Maria Theresa suffered from the summer heat. She commissioned Johann Wenzel Bergl (1719-1789), a decorative painter and one of her favorites, to paint murals on the walls of several rooms on the first floor of the palace. She used these as her summer rooms. Bergl covered the walls and ceilings with paintings of exotic landscapes and formal gardens. His use of the tromphe-l’oeil (to fool the eye) effect is extraordinary.
The Schoenbrunn was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996. At the age of six, Mozart’s played his first concert for Maria Theresa at Schoenbrunn in 1762. Maria Theresa was Marie Antoinette’s mother.
Beverly Hall Smith was a professor of art history for 40 years. Since retiring with her husband Kurt to Chestertown in 2014, she has taught art history classes at WC-ALL. She is also an artist whose work is sometimes in exhibitions at Chestertown RiverArts and she paints sets for the Garfield Center for the Arts.