- Mika Vepsalainen
Volkskundemuseum - Austrian Folk Life and Art in a Fancy Old Castle
Join us for a visit to the Viennese Museum of Folk Life and Art, Volkskundemuseum and you will see the true historical and current everyday culture of the people in the former lands of the Habsburgs.
The Austrian Museum of Folk Life and Folk Art is a great ethnographic museum that exhibits extensive collections of folk life and art. Located in the Schönborn Garden Palace in Josefstadt, Vienna’s 8th district, the building is getting a little shabby but is well worth a visit: it is a truejewel of early 18th century architecture. Designed by Johann Lucas von Hildebrandt, it was built for Count Friedrich Karl von Schönborn-Buchheim who wanted a castle with an extensive garden in a magnificent baroque style castle with a French garden.
The Austrian Museum of Folk Life and Folk Art moved in to the palace as early as in 1917. With its collections from the former Habsburg Crown Lands, it is Austria’s largest museum of its kind and has survived through the turbulent historical eras since the Association for Folk Life and Folk Art (Verein für Volkskunde) was established it in 1895. A popular allegory in the baroque times, the “Bird of Self-Knowledge” was chosen as the museum’s logo in 1994.
von Schönborn had a deep passion for building projects. In addition to the Schönborn Garden Palace, the urban palace of Schönborn-Batthyany, the State Chancellery (Geheime Hofkanzlei, today’s Federal Chancellery) and the Imperial Chancellery Wing of the Hofburg in Vienna were his projects, many of which he carried out with architect Johann Lucas von Hildebrandt. His enthusiasm for baroque architecture and garden design also strengthened his cordial relations with Prince Eugene of Savoy for whom Hildebrandt had designed the Unteres and Oberes Belvedere Palaces - see our reviews!
Hildebrandt accented the side facing the garden with an avant-corps topped by a balustrade at the roof level. This “stairwell risalit” (Treppenhausrisalit) still houses the Grand Staircase that leads from the vestibule to the first floor. The Painting Gallery has a magnificent stucco ceiling with its finely swung golden strapwork, "Bandlwerk", in keeping with early 18th century fashion. In the Large Gallery, von Schönborn presented paintings, sculptures, and further rarities that reflected not only his wealth but also his taste or “good Gusto” in the words of a famous contemporary architect Johan Jacob Küchel.
You enter the museum via the vestibule and climb the baroque Grand Staircase to the first floor. The stairs feature a richly ornamented balustrade adorned with putti, vases, and vines carved from Kaiserstein (a hard limestone from Kaisersteinbruch in the Leitha Mountains). This former Service Wing is the oldest part of the palace. In 1708 von Hildebrandt joined forces with the imperial court gardener Johann Kaspar Dietmann to plan a baroque pleasure garden according to French design principles. As von Hildebrandt needed a lot of water for his fountains, he had the water piped from his own springs in Tottering, several kilometres away.
Eventually, the garden was opened to the general public as Schönbornpark to remind us of the man behind the palace. The old garden paths still take you to the Park Gate of the Palace. In 2014, a passage through the palace was opened so that, during museum hours, park visitors can use it through the palace’s main entrance free of charge to access the park from Laudongasse.
The garden area is also used for museum exhibitions. The museum’s Cultural Education Department runs educational programmes there and each summer, the Austrian Museum of Folk Life and Folk Art invites the public to its summer party serving to kick off the annual open-air short film festival dotdotdot. Iin pleasant weather, visitors to the museum cafe can enjoy food and drinks there.
The museum itself came to be thanks to some prominent representatives of the House of Habsburg as well as aristocratic families, bankers, and artists lending support to the association. The museum's collection was conceived as a “monument to the multi-ethnic state”, representing the Austro-Hungarian Empire and its ethnic groups. In the interest of “ethnographic comparison”, the collecting activities were expanded to encompass other European regions, as well. The museum’s substantive orientation changed after the collapse of the Habsburg Monarchy and the first permanent exhibition on Laudongasse finally opened in 1920.
After the Nazis seized power in 1933, the direction of the museum oriented themselves towards the cultural policy based on a “Austria-Ideology” (Österreich-Ideologie). With the Anschluss by the National Socialist German Reich in 1938, National Socialist ethnology started playing power politics and the “Teutonic-German Heritage”. Today, the museum works closely with Austria’s Commission for Provenience Research. Since 2015, some significant research has been undertaken to allow review the history of the objects that have entered the museum’s collections since 1938, and to return wrongfully acquired objects to their rightful owners.
The museum shop is located at the ticket counter and sports a good bunch of beautiful and/or interesting useful and bizarre things, and also something to read.
The area now occupied by the Hildebrandt Café still exhibits traces of a tower and the original façade. Do not forget to check the lovely garden section of the café in the summer.
The museum is fully accessible and has a lift to the special exhibitions in the first floor. The permanent exhibition, "The coasts of Austria" is located on the ground floor. There is a handicapped car park right in front of the museum entrance. An accessible toilet is located on the ground floor.
Laudongasse 15-19, 1080 Wien