Antoine (later Marie Antoinette) was the fifteenth and second to last child of the Holy Roman Emperor Francis I and his wife, Maria Theresa, who ruled jointly with her husband. Antoine was born on 2 November 1755 in an armchair in the Hofburg Palace in Vienna. However, while the Hofburg Palace may have been where Antoine was born, it did not mean it was the place where she spent most of her time as a child.
Similar to other royals, Maria Theresa and her family traveled regularly to other residences. One residence where Antoine spent many carefree summers was the Schönbrunn Palace, which at the time was located a few miles south of Vienna. In its early years it was used primarily for hunting, and, in the mid 1600s, after the Holy Roman Empress Eleonora Gonzaga was bequeathed the property, she added a palace to the Katterburg mansion between 1638 and 1643. The property contained a beautiful spring (or well), known as a Schönbrunn, and the first mention of “Schönbrunn” appeared on an invoice around 1642, which is how the palace and grounds received its name.
Schönbrunn was a wedding gift to Maria Theresa from her father, Charles VI, after her marriage in 1736. Over the years other rulers had added and modified the palace. When Maria Theresa decided to use it as a summer home, she found it dilapidated and in need of repairs. In addition, she remodeled it throughout the 1740s and 1750s. One person in the late 1800s described the palace as having “wings to the front and at end each of the main building…it is… whitish-yellow [in] color, and…too flat and squatty for good architecture.” However, it became one most popular country estate of the Habsburg’s under Maria Theresa’s reign.
Inside the Schönbrunn Palace, walls were adorned with wonderful paintings, murals, and medallions, and when the hunting lodge was converted into an imperial residence, its dining room was converted into what was called the Blue Staircase. Fortunately, when the staircase was added, the glorious ceiling—a fresco painted by the Italian artist Sebastiano Ricci in 1701-02—remained unaffected.
Another room with unusual artwork is known today as the Breakfast Room. It has appliqued medallions completed by Maria Theresa’s mother, Elisabeth Christine. She created these medallions from fabric scraps, assembled them into floral bouquets, and sewed them onto silk moiré, complete with insects.
The most interesting rooms in the palace are the Bergl Rooms and were named such because of the paintings completed by the Baroque Austrian painter, Johann Baptist Wenzel Bergl. In these rooms, both walls and ceilings are painted with exotic animals and birds. There is also a structured garden painted with arbors, vases, and balustrades. These room were used by Maria Theresa and her family in the summer when upstairs apartments were too hot.
There were several other rooms that Antoine and her family enjoyed. First, there is the Walnut room, a room so named because of its walnut paneling. It was decorated in typical Rococo style, which reached its height in popularity during Maria Theresa’s reign.
Another room, also typical of the times, is the Mirror Room. In this room the mirrors are positioned to reflect one another, which also creates an illusion of a corridor and disguises the size of the room. The Mirror Room is also likely the room where 6-year-old Mozart give his first concert for the Empress. It may also be the room where he slipped on the polished floor. Antoine then rushed to help him and gave him a kiss, to which he supposedly responded, “You are kind, I would like to marry you.”
Another room important to Maria Theresa and her family, and a room that Antoine likely enjoyed was the Small Gallery. Unlike the Great Gallery that was built for festive court events, the Small Gallery was used for intimate gatherings. Events such as birthday celebrations or private family gatherings were held here.
The grounds of Schönbrunn were as grand as the inside of the palace. They were well thought out and designed by Jean Trehet in 1685. Trehet was a disciple of André Le Nôtre, and Nôtre was the French landscape architect who designed the park at the Palace of Versailles under King Louis XIV of France. At Schönbrunn, Trehet created a Baroque garden that had a central parterre lined with 32 sculptures, accentuated by a pool, and flanked with formal plantings of trees and shrubs, known as boskets. One person described the gardens at Schönbrunn as “French style, quite artificial, with straight, broad avenues, lined with trees, trimmed in the most formal manner by rule and square.” There was also a maze, and, in 1755, an amazing circular orangerie was erected.
If the maze and the orangerie were not interesting enough, Antoine could have also visited the zoo. Antoine’s father was extremely found of nature and natural history, and, so, in 1752, he ordered the zoo built. It was designed and created by his court architect, Jean Nicolas Jadot, who created 13 animal enclosures that were arranged around a central pavilion. Admission was free, and animals to fill the cages arrived gradually, as most were acquired from Joseph’s (Antoine’s brother, later Joseph II) expeditions. The first elephant arrived in 1770, and its arrival initiated a long tradition of elephant keeping at the zoo.
The same year the elephant arrived, in April 1770, 14-year-old Antoine became the Dauphine of France when she married Louis-Auguste, heir to the throne of France and the future Louis XVI. With her marriage to Louis-Auguste, she left Austria to live in France and thereafter became known as Marie Antoinette. She also left behind the Schönbrunn Palace for the more opulent, elegant, and grand Versailles, which Louis XV spent a fortune on in order to let world know that France was a world power. Marie Antoinette never saw the Schönbrunn Palace again, and as she became more and more unpopular with the French, some critics alleged she was trying to recreate it at Petit Trianon, which they called the “Little Vienna” or “Little Schönbrunn.”
- Annual Report of the Secretary, Volume 10, 1862
- Appleton’s European Guide Book for English-speaking Travellers, 1896
- Lever, Evelyne and Catherine Temerson, Marie Antoinette, 2001
- Schönbrunn Website
- Hosey, Geoff, etals., Zoo Animals, 2013