The construction of a modern state
The architectural jewel of Schloss Niederweiden was built in 1693/1694 at the behest of Count Ernst Rüdiger von Starhemberg to designs by Johann Bernhard Fischer von Erlach, the same architect who was responsible for Schönbrunn Palace. In 1726 it was acquired by Prince Eugene of Savoy. Maria Theresa purchased it in 1755 together with Schloss Hof, and ten years later commissioned her court architect Nicolaus von Pacassi to remodel and extend it. During the course of these alterations she had the rooms including the great hall decorated in the ‘Chinese’ manner that was the height of fashion at the time. The exhibition at Schloss Niederweiden focuses on this powerful urge to construct and create, whether at Schönbrunn, Schloss Hof or Schloss Niederweiden, a trait that also manifested itself in her policies.
The impulses and their spiritual fathers
The exhibition starts with an informative overview of the Estates system and the enormous differences that existed between the social strata in order to enable the visitor to grasp the profound impact of Maria Theresa’s reforms, which endured considerably longer than that of her military triumphs or defeats. In the great hall at Schloss Niederweiden the focus will be on the thinkers behind her reforms, including Gerhard von Swieten with his university reforms and Joseph Leopold von Daun with his reform of the army and founding of the Military Academy in Wiener Neustadt. A series of pictures by Bernhard Albrecht depicting the lives of its pupils documents this institution. Benches and desks recall the introduction of compulsory schooling. Many of the educational institutions founded by Maria Theresa still exist today, including the Theresianum, the Commercial Academy, Veterinary University, University of Mining and Metallurgy and the colleges of art.
Enlightenment and scepticism
With the reform of the state, fiscal system, administration, schools, universities and the army, Maria Theresa undertook important steps to modernize her dominions, making use of the services of enlightened thinkers such as the Augustinian canon and abbot Johann Ignaz von Felbiger. Her actions clearly demonstrate her adherence to the principle of utility for the prosperity of the state and its citizens. At the same time, as an ultra-Catholic ruler, she herself harboured a sceptical attitude towards the Enlightenment, only abolishing torture at the urging of Joseph von Sonnenfels. Her legislation of 1769, the Constitutio Criminalis Theresiana, still featured crimes such as witchcraft, dismissed as superstition by enlightened thinkers.