The Oxford historians' discovery of Vienna

Events & news

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 Ferdinand and the Beginning of the First World War

On 29 June 1914, the Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the heir to the Habsburg throne, was assassinated in Sarajevo. The death of this rather unpleasant character assumed the dimensions of a Shakespearean tragedy as it became the pretext for the First World War. Very soon, the whole of Europe would find out that the world was,…
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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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Last Days of the Raphael Exhibition in Vienna

The exhibition of 130 drawings and 17 paintings by Raphael at the Albertina in Vienna is the result of the cooperation between the Albertina and the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford. Most of the drawings were displayed at a hugely successful exhibition in Oxford over the past summer. You can see our review of the Oxford…
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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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A Rubens Exhibition in Vienna: The Master as Student

Between 17 October 2017 and 21 January 2018, the Art History Museum in Vienna (the Kunsthistorisches, henceforth KH) is running an exhibition on the Flemish painter Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640). [caption id="attachment_2736" align="alignleft" width="169"] Exhibition poster inside the museum.[/caption] The title of the show, The Power of Transformation, refers to the main aim of the…
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The Vienna Raphael Drawings in Oxford: The Ashmolean Museum Exhibition 2017

The great art event in Oxford this summer is undoubtedly the exhibition of Raphael’s drawings at the Ashmolean Museum (June - September 2017). The vast majority of the drawings come from the impressive collection of the Ashmolean itself and from the Albertina Museum in Vienna. The show has received enthusiastic reviews – it’s been described…
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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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An Austrian Philosopher at Cambridge: Wittgenstein’s Tolstoyan Ethics

Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889-1951), one of the most important philosophers of the twentieth century, was born in Vienna in an extremely wealthy and highly cultured Jewish family. He spent part of his academic career in Cambridge, where he worked with the British philosopher Bertrand Russell. The result was a slim, but hugely influential book that Wittgenstein…
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A Schiele Exhibition at the Albertina, Vienna (22 February – 18 June 2017)

The rediscovery of the Austrian artist Egon Schiele (1890-1918) is a relatively recent phenomenon. In the 1960s, it was still possible for the Burlington Magazine, one of the most highly respected art history journals, to describe Schiele’s paintings as “daubs on public lavatories.” Few nowadays would think of referring to Schiele’s works in such disparaging…
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The Putti in the Belvedere Palace Gardens in Vienna

The Belvedere Palace, the lavish summer residence of Prince Eugene of Savoy, is one of the most impressive Baroque palaces in Europe. The Upper Belvedere is more spectacular and slightly later in date than the Lower Belvedere. The two complexes are connected by the gardens, an outstanding example of Baroque landscape architecture. The wide stairs…
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Fame But No Fortune? The Case of Mozart

One of the most die-hard elements of the Mozart myth is the notion that he died impoverished and was buried, on a stormy night, in an unknown, common grave. The motif of the beggars’ grave is certainly an invention. At the time, it was usual to bury all, but members of the aristocracy, in such…
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Hitler in Vienna: Learning from the Best

My friend Helmut once said that he was perfectly happy for people to think, as they often do, that Beethoven was Austrian, while Hitler was German. Helmut, as you can imagine, is Austrian. Indeed, Beethoven, who was born in Bonn, spent such a long time of his adult life in Vienna that one can understand…
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Prince Eugene of Savoy – the Debauched Boy Turned Military Hero

In 1682, King Louis XIV of France was approached by a short and unprepossessing-looking young man, who asked to be allowed to enlist in the French army. The young man was Prince Eugene of Savoy (1663-1736), who, as the fifth son of one of the important, aristocratic families in France had two careers open to…
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Empress Sisi: The Most Beautiful Royal in Europe

Strolling through the streets of central Vienna, there are two faces staring at you from cups, mugs, fridge magnets, chocolates, coffee-boxes, and all the rest of the tourist paraphernalia. One is Mozart, as can only be expected, the other one is the Empress Elizabeth (1837-1898), the wife of Emperor Franz Joseph, affectionately known as Sisi.…
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The Sacher Café and Viennese High Society

Traditional coffee-culture was very much a bourgeois culture. Most Viennese coffee-houses catered for their usual clientele – middle-class, almost exclusively male, intellectual, and overwhelmingly Jewish (the last two often overlapped). In this sense, the café at the Sacher Hotel, founded in 1876, was a notable exception. It was at the Sacher that one could come…
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An Exhibition of Japanese Erotic Art at the MAK in Vienna (12.10.2016 – 29.01.2017): “Vile Pictures in the Best Style”

In 1859, on a visit to Japan, the American businessman Francis Hall was shown erotic Japanese prints, known as shunga. His reaction sums up the mainstream European attitude to shunga at the time and later. Hall called the prints, “vile pictures in the best Japanese style.” [caption id="attachment_2586" align="alignleft" width="422"] Shunga on painted handscroll, British…
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Coffee Culture in the 10th District

When I first arrived in Vienna, I was warned by well-meaning locals to keep away from the 10th district, an area wrought with crime and beset with danger. I later worked out that “crime” in Austria means something very different from “crime” in the U.S., for example. Austrians generally don’t think of crime in terms…
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The Café Landtmann and the Borders of Europe

One of the most impressive historic cafes in Vienna is the Landtmann, which was founded in 1873. Next to the Burg Theatre and across from the Town Hall (the Rathaus), with its large open terrace in summer, it’s just a wonderful place. To Austrians, it’s known as the favourite café of Freud. Even Altenberg, the writer…
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The Café Museum and Modern Architecture

  Karlsplatz, the immense square in the centre of Vienna, is a good starting point for those who want to get a sense of some of the most interesting developments in Viennese architecture at the turn of the twentieth century. The square is, in fact, dominated by the grandiose Karlskirche, the famous Baroque church. [caption…
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The Café Mozart and The Third Man

  Along the Ring, not far from the Opera, is the Burg Kino, one of the cinemas for English speakers in Vienna. Whatever other films are on, there is usually an afternoon projection of The Third Man (1949), set in Vienna after the war. The script is by one of the great British novelists of…
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The Café Central: Plotting Revolution in Grand Surroundings

The Café Central: Plotting Revolution in Grand Surroundings The Café Central in the Herrengasse is certainly where one starts when it comes to Viennese coffee culture. The Herrengasse is a rather short street in the very heart of the city, which was one of the most prestigious addresses in imperial Vienna. The street ends in…
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