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Architectural history 18th century

Blue Staircase ceiling fresco by Sebastiano Ricci
Blue Staircase ceiling fresco
Maria Theresa in oriental costume and mask, Oil painting by M. van Meytens 1744
Maria Theresa in oriental costume and mask
Garden facade and Great Parterre of Schönbrunn Palace, Oil painting by Canaletto 1759
Oil painting Schönbrunn Palace
Vieux-Laque-Room with presious chinese lacquer panels
Vieux-Laque-Room
Exotic landscape paintings in the Bergl-Rooms
Bergl Rooms
The neptune fountain, Coloured steel engraving 1870
The Neptune Fountain

Work on the unfinished building began in the winter of 1742/43 and eventually culminated in a huge rebuilding project which gave the palace the appearance it still largely retains to this day. The first construction phase from 1743 to 1749 carried out in close collaboration with Nikolaus Pacassi, whose practical skills led to him becoming the leading architect on the project. He was eventually appointed court architect in 1749. The audience chamber and residential apartments of Maria Theresa and Franz Stephan in the east wing were extended and were ready to be moved into by 1746.

One year previously the newly-refurbished court chapel had been consecrated. In terms of its spatial structure and proportions it remained largely unaltered from Fischer von Erlach's design. The rebuilding of the east wing included the laying out of the two inner quadrangles and the construction of the so-called Chapel Staircase which afforded access to the piano nobile.

The following phase in 1746 included the removal of the central exterior flight of stairs that Fischer had built on the Parade Court front in order to create a spacious carriageway out of the ground floor of the central projection, together with the Great and Small Galleries above it on the piano nobile. During the same phase the Blue Staircase was constructed in the west wing out of the former dining room designed by Fischer von Erlach in order to provide a suitably imposing entrance to the piano nobile, whereby the original ceiling frescoes by Sebastiano Ricci from 1702/03 were preserved.

The steady growth of the imperial family made new alterations in the east wing necessary by 1747, a new mezzanine floor being inserted between the piano nobile and the upper storey to serve as the apartments for the imperial children and their retinues.

The two galleries at the centre of the palace provided space for large-scale festivities, with the Small Gallery being used for more intimate family celebrations. At this stage the two rooms were as yet unadorned with the rich stucco decoration and the ceiling frescoes that were later to grace them. On private occasions, the Great Gallery could also be accessed directly via the sweeping flights of the newly-constructed Parade Court Stairway. On official occasions visitors had to take the long way round from the Blue Staircase to the audience chambers of the emperor and empress in the east wing, in order to comply with court ceremonial.

Other alterations at this time included the arcades connecting the side wings – known as the 'Cavalier Wings' – along the Parade Court which housed the upper ranks of the court servants. Adjacent to these and extending both eastwards (including the Orangery) and westwards a complex of working quarters was constructed. These were urgently needed, as Schönbrunn had now become an imperial residence, and including the imperial family and the court, more than 1,000 people had to be provided for and accommodated.

At Maria Theresa's express wish a theatre was also built in the north Parade Court wing and ceremonially opened in 1747. Among the singers and actors who trod its boards were the numerous children of the empress. She also distinguished herself here as a talented singer.

Soon after 1750 Maria Theresa again felt compelled to embark on a new phase of rebuilding, the planning and execution of which lay entirely in the hands of Pacassi. The imperial family was steadily growing, and the corresponding need for more room led to the insertion of a mezzanine floor in the west wing. This meant that the external symmetry of the building had been restored and that the completion of the façade could now be taken in hand. The paintings of Schönbrunn palace by Bernardo Bellotto dating from 1759/60 show the Parade Court and garden façades with the detailed articulation and rich ornamentation that is typical of the Rococo age.

The building work of this second phase was not limited to creating more room in the upper storeys and the outbuildings of the palace but also included the decoration of the ceremonial and state rooms. The two galleries were given vaulted, frescoed ceilings and exuberant stucco-work decoration, becoming one of the most important Rococo interiors ever created. The frescoes were executed by Gregorio Guglielmi between 1755 and 1761, while the stucco decoration was created by Albert Bolla in 1761/62. Most of the rooms on the garden side of the palace were also given typical Rococo decoration displaying exuberant, playful forms known as rocailles, with mirrors and paintings set into the walls.

Following the sudden death of Emperor Franz Stephan in 1765, which was a devastating blow to Maria Theresa, a new phase of refurbishment and alterations ensued. The widowed empress had several rooms in the east wing of the palace appointed as memorial rooms and spared no expense in fitting them out with precious Chinese lacquer panels and costly wooden panelling which have been preserved to this day.

On the ground floor Maria Theresa had the so-called Bergl Rooms painted with exotic landscape murals between 1769 and 1777, and used these rooms as her apartments during the hot summer months.

The last project initiated by the empress during the 1770s was the designing and laying out of the gardens under the supervision of court architect Johann Ferdinand Hetzendorf von Hohenberg, who constructed architectural features in the park such as the Gloriette, the Neptune Fountain, the Roman Ruin and the Obelisk Fountain. In addition the avenues, fountains and open spaces were enhanced with statues and sculptures in the antique style executed by Wilhelm Beyer and his studio. The remodelling of the palace and gardens was not finally completed until just before Maria Theresa died.

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