“High Office” and “Men’s World”
Maria Theresa naturally made use of her sovereign rights, defending them vehemently against all attacks, but she also always accepted that she was just an exception in an otherwise inviolable world order. As a result, she transcended the restrictions that the society of her day imposed on women without ever intrinsically challenging them. The exhibition reveals how masterfully she managed to maintain her feminine identity, whilst nevertheless displaying the distinctly “masculine” virtues of a sovereign ruler. As a result, she was persuasive both as a mother who provided for the continuation of the male line of succession and as a ruler, reformer and supreme commander.
High spirits and spectacle
It was well known fact that the young Maria Theresa took great delight in celebrating, playing, dancing and carriage excursions. Her favourite pastimes also included riding. One of the highlights of the exhibition is the monarch’s baroque riding gear, on display to the public for the first time. It includes a magnificent curb bit decorated with reliefs of the imperial couple.
The ladies’ carousel attests to the close link between pleasure and politics. During the War of the Austrian Succession, this extravagant public spectacle enabled Maria Theresa to demonstrate both subtly and effectively that she could hold her own in the traditional male martial disciplines. In the exhibition, visitors can experience this unique event thanks to a virtual installation revolving around the magnificent golden carousel carriage.
The extensive sleigh rides that court society enjoyed during the winter were also part of the empress’s projection of herself. An opulent procession of elaborate sleighs with bell harnesses shows just how impressive they were.
State coaches as symbols of power
Since the ordinary people generally only saw their ruler riding in a carriage, the design of state coaches was always of the utmost importance. Taking over the carriage of a predecessor or opponent and the resulting modification of insignia and iconography were important symbols of acquisition of power. Maria Theresa had her father’s state coach decorated with new images alluding to her identity as a female ruler. The mother of sixteen also had fashionable carriages built for her many children. These Berlin coaches enabled the dynasty to showcase highly effectively its impressive personal strengths during public appearances. The Maria Theresa exhibition not only shows for the first time a procession of these carriages with the original harnessing, but also displays astonishing restoration work.