Baubles and Bones

Today’s cultural adventure was a visit to the Hapsburg treasury with my daughter.

Now, we’ve done some traveling, and we’ve seen some bling in our time. Even Hapsburg bling, in Latin America and Prague. But the Schatzkammer stands out even among the various royal stashes for sheer excess–and occasional artistry.

The textiles caught my attention first, probably because I am a needlewoman myself. The royal robes were quite impressive.

Perfect for August in Vienna (really!)

But the religious tapestries were truly amazing. This looks like a painting, but in fact it is millions and millions of little stitches. I just don’t know how they did it.

World’s tiniest needlepoint.

The poor little royal babies had to put up with these very scratchy-looking gold-encrusted christening robes.

Gymboree, this ain’t.

But at least they got a comfy crib to snooze in when it was all over.

Don’t let the menacing bird of prey keep you up at night, sweetie…

There were several royal crowns on display. This one was my favorite. It is about a thousand years old.

Major, major bling.

There were tons of other jewels on display, of course, plus a few little items that the Hapsburgs had lying around their house just because they could, like this two-foot solid gold flower arrangement.

Beautiful, if you don’t think about all the peasants who starved for it.

And then it got weird. Well, of course it did. These were Hapsburgs.

There were several rooms of Catholic stuff. Mostly “reliquaries,” which are elaborate ways to display various body parts that supposedly come from saints. I reckon in the Schatzkammer alone, there must have been enough bits and pieces to assemble a couple of holy corpses. Yech.

I know what this looks like, but it’s actually a femur, I think.
A nail from the true cross that looks suspiciously like a rusty railroad spike.
In case you missed that this is an actual body part, these teeny skeletons are here to remind you of the fact.

The Hapsburgs had so much of this stuff piled up that they had to come up with ever-more creative ways to display their bits and pieces. Here is an especially macabre little tree, hung with bones, teeth, and who knows what else, in little jars. In our century, this would be a serial killer’s collection of souvenirs. In the 18th century, it was the coolest thing ever.

Like a Christmas tree, except…not.

Here’s another way to organize your gruesome collection. Three display cases full of gold-plated busts of saints, each with a tooth, fingernail, or whatever displayed in a little glass window in the base.

No, not composers, saints.

Finally, I just really have no idea what’s going on here, but that is supposedly a piece of a saint in the glass box. Topped off with a happy child being threatened by Jesus with a sword?


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