Monday, August 21, 2017

A Visit to Innsbruck (6): The Castle of Ambras and the First Museum in Europe

Today is the final installment of my series on Innsbruck. I have saved the most exotic for the end.

On the last day of my visit, my host took me to the city's Hapsburg castle, Schloss Ambras, for a special exhibit on the erudite collector-prince Ferdinand II of Tirol (1529-1595). Ferdinand, who lived at Ambras once he was installed as ruler of Tirol, embarked on a building and collecting campaign that would lead to the opening of Europe’s first museum, dedicated primarily to his extensive armor gallery and his remarkable gallery of “curiosities and wonders.” While some of these pieces remain at the Schloss, many have been dispersed to other museums; hence, the special exhibit attempted to pull them back together more or less the way Ferdinand intended. The museum was so extensive that I could not hope to do it justice here. I paid special attention to religious items that would be of interest to NLM readers. (The descriptions of many of the objects are adapted from the museum’s placards.)

First, the castle itself that houses the collection:

On the many suits of armor the detail that captured my attention was this little crucifixion scene etched on the breastplate, in which the knight kneels before his Lord.
One room was devoted to victors of famous battles, including that of Lepanto. Here are Don Juan of Austria, Marc Antonio Colonna, and Sebastiano Venier, and then matching portraits of Andrea Doria and Chaireddin Barbarossa.

One of the more remarkable types of object in the archduke’s collection are things (often Passion scenes) made from carved and polished coral and shell, obtained from Genoa and processed in Bavaria or Tirol.

A font made of gilded copper with coral decorations.
The Viennese had to make annual tribute payments to the Ottoman Porte, but instead of simply handing over a brick of gold, their craftsmen made clever (and, one might think, ironical) objects, such as this mechanical clock. At quarter hours, half hours, and hours, the figures begin to move: the guenon bites into the apple, the rower turns his head, and the pasha rolls his eyes.
Some of the “wonders” are pieces of exquisite craftsmanship that can have few equals anywhere, such as this replica of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem made of carved and turned wood that strains the limits of static possibility; the portable writing desk, made of wood and bone; the depiction of the Baptism of Jesus painted on to a slice of marble so that the veins mimic natural phenomena; and a scene made up entirely of little pieces of colored glass.

Ferdinand wanted to have examples in his collection of every natural material out of which anything at all could be fashioned; thus, we have amber figurines (amber being the fossilized resin of the amber pine tree, which grew in the early Tertiary period):
And a last small object, a shot glass with the monogram of the Holy Name of Jesus.
This is something I had never seen before: part books for a coronation anthem, made out of silk and linen (that is, the musical notation is made up of threads sewn into the fabric), for the Emperor Charles V in Bologna in 1530. The books contain a Latin motet and a German song as well. The cover features the imperial coat of arms.
Another part book, this time of a Kyrie by Blasius Amon, but this one not made out of fabric (!)
Of liturgical interest, chalices, a set of cruets (marked V and A because the material is opaque), vestments (note the thickness of the embroidery), a portable reredos with relics (for the traveling chaplain), and a book of hours for the archduke’s first wife.

Of architectural and interior design interest, there is the great hall of the palace, decorated with frescoes of Hapsburg ancestors and mythical heroes, not to mention the occasional decapitated Moor.

A couple of drawings connected with the exequies of Ferdinand II, and a charming genealogical chart featuring just one royal nun.

A portrait of Benedetto Odescalchi (1611-1689), better known as Pope Innocent XI.
And on the way out, a set of original Roman milestones.

All in all, a most interesting and worthwhile visit.

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