Schönbrunn Palace was Marie Antoinette‘s childhood summer home. Antoine, as she was called at the time, 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 she was born, it did not mean it was the palace 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 Palace 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 to it. When Maria Theresa decided to use it as a summer home, she found it dilapidated and in need of repairs and got busy refurbishing it. 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, despite its poor architecture it became one of the most popular country estates 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 inside the Schönbrunn Palace 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.
Probably the most interesting rooms in the palace are the Bergl Rooms. They 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 rooms 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 was an exuberantly decorative European style. It began in France in the first part of the 18th century in the reign of Louis XV as a reaction against the more formal and geometric style Louis XIV and it 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 were positioned to reflect one another, which also created an illusion of a corridor and disguised 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, which caused Antoine to rush to help him up and give him a kiss, to which he responded, “You are kind, I would like to marry you.”
Another room of the Schönbrunn Palace 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. He 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.
A visitor to the Schönbrunn grounds in 1829 stated:
“These gardens are really worthy of the residence to which they are attached. For what is called ornamental, formal gardening – enriched by shrubs of rarity, and trees of magnificence – enlivened by fountains – adorned by sculpture – and diversified by vistos, lawns, and walks – interspersed with grottos and artificial ruins – you can conceive nothing upon a grander scale than these: while a menagerie in one place … – a flower garden in another – a labyrinth in a third, and a solitude in a fourth place – each, in its turn, equally beguiles the hour and the walk. They are the most spacious gardens I ever witnessed.”
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 him, 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 everyone know that France was a world power. She 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 the Austrian palace at Petit Trianon, which they called the “Little Vienna” or “Little Schönbrunn.”
-  Schönbrunn Website
-  Lever, Evelyne and Catherine Temerson, Marie Antoinette, 2001, p. 8.
-  Annual Report of the Secretary, Volume 10, 1862, p. 339.
-  Dibdin, Thomas Frognall, A Bibliographical, Antiquarian and Picturesque Tour in France and Germany, Volume 3, 1829 p. 372-373.