The Oxford historians' discovery of Vienna

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A Holy Roman Empress Painted by Leonardo

In 2008, The New York Times published an article announcing what had been a rumour in art historical circles, i.e., the discovery of a new Leonardo painting. A work by Leonardo da Vinci is, of course, the ultimate cultural possession and, not surprisingly, the news stirred the waters among art lovers, collectors, auctioneers, etc. A…
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Schumpeter: An Austrian Economist at Harvard

Joseph Schumpeter (1883-1950), the famous Austrian economist, who spent most of his life teaching at Harvard, was and has remained something of a celebrity. One wonders, though, if the section in the Economist, which bears his name would have been flattering enough for a man, who seemed to know no moderation in his ambitions.  As…
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Matters of Identity: How German Are the Austrians?

After the First World War, the position of Austria was that its people, to all intents and purposes, were German. Therefore, Austria asked officially to be incorporated into the German state, to which it naturally belonged. After the Second World War, Austria claimed the exact opposite. Look as hard as they might, Austrians could detect…
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The Partitions of Poland and on Hypocrisy in Politics

In 1683 Poland saved Austria. In 1772 Austria betrayed Poland. 1683 is the year of the second siege of Vienna by the Ottomans (the first had been in 1529), the Austrian Emperor’s flight from the city, and the saving of the city by the King of Poland – in this succession. So, Leopold I (1604-1705)…
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Franz Joseph and the Advantages of Idleness in Politics

When Franz Joseph (1830-1916) succeeded his uncle Ferdy the Fool as Emperor of Austria in 1848 everyone breathed a sigh of relief. The man at least was not a certifiable mental retard. Moreover, he was quite presentable, had a genuine sense of duty and was extremely hard-working and conscientious. Up to this day, tourists at…
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Haydn in England and the Language that Crosses Borders

At the end of the eighteenth century, Austria’s unrivalled export was its musicians. Three of the greatest music geniuses of all time were near contemporaries, living in Vienna. The eldest was Haydn, there was Mozart, and the German Beethoven who moved from Bonn to Vienna in order to study with Haydn. Then, as now, musicians…
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Georg Lukacs: A Hungarian Philosopher’s Journey from Vienna to Moscow

For the last century or so, Vienna has been the preferred place of political asylum, especially for those coming from Eastern and Central Europe. Admittedly, the profile of the asylum-seekers has somewhat changed. After the fall of Communism in 1989, Vienna turned into the headquarters of Russian, Ukranian and Bulgarian oligarchs, bringing hundreds of millions…
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Ferdy the Fool and the Mystique of Blue Blood

The observation that the concentration of fools and inadequates among European royalty and the higher aristocracy has been way above the average is not an expression of class envy. It is a simple statement of fact, supported by modern science to which the effects of inbreeding are well-known.   [caption id="attachment_2788" align="alignleft" width="220"] Charles II,…
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Metternich and the Rise of the House of Rothschild in Vienna

The beginning of the nineteenth century is sometimes called “the Age of Metternich” after Prince Clemens von Metternich (1773-1859), the Foreign Minister and Chancellor of the Habsburg Empire and arguably the most powerful man in Europe. His credo, implemented through the “Metternich system,” was political equilibrium among the European powers, which would be a guarantee…
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The Emperor Maximilian I as the Ultimate Match-maker

In an essay on Maximilian I (1459-1519), the celebrated English historian Hugh Trevor-Roper relates how at his death in 1519, the Habsburg Emperor was “generally regarded as a complete failure.” The lack of achievement and the succession of bad luck could indeed strike anyone as almost singular. After the death of his first wife Mary of…
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The Dancing Congress: The Congress of Vienna in 1814

When Tsar Alexander I fainted during his stay in Vienna in 1814, the initial suspicion was that he had been poisoned. Later, it became clear that the Russian sovereign was suffering from extreme exhaustion as a result of excessive dancing. Alexander, immortalised in Tolstoy’s War and Peace, was the most influential voice at the Congress…
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The “Most Lovable Empire:” Recent Scholarship on the Habsburg Empire

Krishan Kumar’s new book, Visions of Empire: How Five Imperial Regimes Shaped the Modern World, (Princeton, 2017), looks at five empires: the Roman, the Ottoman, the Habsburg, the Russian/Soviet, and the French. What becomes clear at the very beginning is that Kumar’s approach is, by and large, a sympathetic one. The underlying understanding is that…
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Marie Antoinette: An Austrian Princess Becomes the Last Queen of France

There is some sense in which one cannot help but feel some sympathy with Marie Antoinette’s notorious remark about cake-eating. Of course, it is outrageous, when faced with hungry people demanding bread, to shrug your shoulders and recommend that they eat cake instead. This is even more so when you are, quite literally, carrying the…
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The “Used-to-be” Jews of Vienna in 1938

In one of Henry James’s novels, two elderly American ladies, who had spent most of their lives in Italy, describe themselves as “used-to-be Americans.” The expression is quite apt for a sense of identity that is complex, multilayered, and strongly founded on cultural belonging. While they were born in America, Henry James’s characters had lived…
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