Home > 2011 Posts > It’s Good to be a Habsburg

It’s Good to be a Habsburg

Vienna has the best ancient artifacts.

As an archaeology and museum addict, I’ve devoured museums in the US and Europe looking for treasures to feed my habit. A few months ago, I achieved Ancient Artifact Nirvana at Vienna’s Kunsthistoriches Museum on Maria Theresien-Platz.

This institution has things on display that are thousands of years old and in near perfect condition: delicate glass without even a crack, pottery without even the smallest chip, Egyptian artifacts with paint as bright as though they were made yesterday. I was amazed. The British Museum or the Louvre or Cologne’s Römisch-Germanisches or Rome’s National Museums might have a few items like that, but not most of the things on display.

Why? Why was this museum so different? The answer is that all its contents was given as gifts to the Emperor of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. And each one was meant to curry favor for the noble who gave it. So, for more than 100 years, ambitious Austrians scoured the earth for the very best looking and most nearly perfect artifact of its kind. After all, you wouldn’t ever want to be caught offering second best to one of the four most powerful people in the world would you? And especially not to the one of those four most versed in the subject.

Decoration of an Egyptian Artifact Hall

Thanks to those social-climbing 19th century forebears of California’s former Governator, I was able to gorge on an unrivaled banquet of history for two days.

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Here is a link to the Kunsthistorisches Museum website.

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