Maria Theresa

Strategist – Mother – Reformer

A major new exhibition marking the third centenary of the birth of Maria Theresa explores the life and work of this monarch and empress-consort. The Maria Theresa exhibition will be taking place from 15 March to 29 November 2017 at four locations in Vienna and Lower Austria. One of the outstanding personalities from the House of Habsburg, she assumed an almost mythical status a short time after her death in 1780. The exhibition Maria Theresa: Strategist – Mother – Reformer presents a nuanced exploration of the bright and dark sides of the ruler, examining her life, family, political achievements and legacy.


History with original objects at original locations

What makes this temporary exhibition a very special experience is that it is taking place at more than one location as a cooperative project between Schloss Schönbrunn Kultur- und Betriebsges.m.b.H (SKB) and the Kunsthistorisches Museum (KHM) in Vienna. Dr Franz Sattlecker, managing director of the SKB, explains: ‘Thanks to the cooperation with the KHM-Museumsverband, this exhibition has two major strengths. We are presenting history through original objects at original locations while at the same time illuminating all the different facets of this fascinating European personality.’


The focal image of the exhibition by Jean-Étienne Liotard

The focal image of the exhibition is a pastel portrait of Maria Theresa by Jean-Étienne Liotard. ‘This portrait of Maria Theresa was the result of a spontaneous encounter between the monarch and the artist during his first sojourn and paved the way for numerous commissions from the monarch and the aristocracy’, explains Dr Elfriede Iby, head of the SKB Department of Research and Documentation. Uniquely, the portrait depicts Maria Theresa as a private individual, without the insignia of monarchy.

The four exhibitions and their themes and curators

At Schloss Hof and Schloss Niederweiden in the Marchfeld region of Lower Austria, the main themes are Alliances and Enmities and Modernization and Reform. ‘As a politician, Maria Theresa is a thoroughly ambivalent figure’, notes Karl Vocelka, until his retirement professor of history at the Department of History in the University of Vienna and curator of the exhibitions at these two locations. ‘Her reign was marked by wars, suffering and intolerance just as much as by enduring reforms and her pioneering modernization of the state.’

Dr Elfriede Iby and Dr Werner Telesko are the curators of the exhibition at the Hofmobiliendepot • Imperial Furniture Collection. Entitled Family and Legacy, its central themes are Maria Theresa’s large family, her dynastic marriage policy and the individual destinies of her children. The Rococo style that was specific to her reign is also presented as exemplified by Schönbrunn Palace. ‘We also explore her legacy’, adds Werner Telesko, director of the IKM – Institute for History of Art and Musicology of the Austrian Academy of Sciences. ‘When one examines the mythic status of this European ruler, it is clear that the strategic use of images is a theme of central importance.’

The exhibition at the Imperial Carriage Museum stands under the motto Female Power and Zest for Life. ‘We’re presenting Maria Theresa’s zest for life, her opulent, crowd-pleasing festivities and her way of representing herself, poised as she was between female identity and ‘male’ sovereignty, an aspect that has especial fascination for us today’, explains Dr Monica Kurzel-Runtscheiner, director of the Vienna Imperial Carriage Museum. The presentation of the monarch’s fairy-tale carriages, sleighs, riding equipment and gowns using visual media developed specially for the exhibition and ingenious lighting effects makes for a unique sensory experience.


Dr Elfriede Iby, Dr Werner Telesko (Hofmobiliendepot ● Imperial Furniture Collection)
Dr Monica Kurzel-Runtscheiner (Vienna Imperial Carriage Museum)
Prof Dr Karl Vocelka (Schloss Hof, Schloss Niederweiden)

Exhibition design:

Checo Sterneck (Hofmobiliendepot ● Imperial Furniture Collection, Schloss Hof, Schloss Niederweiden)
architettura21 (Vienna Imperial Carriage Museum)