The Landscape Guide

Belvedere Schwarzenberg Liechtenstein Schloss Hof Schönbrunn Mirabell

The greatest of the imperial castles, Schönbrunn, is not wholly wanting in the same spirit, in spite of its immense size, and in spite of the propelling power of its well-known rivalry with Versailles. Schönbrunn had belonged to the emperor ever since the sixteenth century, but in 1683 the shooting-box, built in the Italian manner, was destroyed by fire. Thirteen years later, with new noblemen’s castles growing up everywhere round Vienna, we hear about fresh building at Schönbrunn. The bold first design of Fischer von Erlach shows the spirit that was then alive at Vienna in matters of art. The castle was to stand at the altitude of the present Gloriette, and the hill below was to be converted. into great terraces, the supporting walls held up by architectural niches, with water-devices and parterres on the terraces, Above, in front of the castle, there was to be a circular pond on a terrace of a similar kind, A great court of honour, meant for games, was to form the end of the place in front, and it is like what we have to-day in the same part in front of the castle. A cascade in seven streams falls foaming over the rocks, This plan might truly rival the fairest villas of Italy—nay, it might eclipse them. An inscription under the picture says that there was a desire to get the grand view from the top, and that the park was to be laid out on the land that sloped gently towards Hetzendorf.

It was an architect’s dream, which even the wealth of the Viennese court could not realise. Fischer had to content himself with a second plan, which was to build the house at the foot of the hill, and to lay out the garden right up to the top; and this scheme was in the end carried out. The absence of a view from the main house was to be compensated for by setting a little pleasure-castle on the top of the ridge. In the very large parterre shown in the sketch by Kraus (Fig. 491) Fischer makes other concessions to French taste.

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 A canal flows all round it, and two small pavilions mark the corners. At the back the canal curves in a half-circle; and between it and the hill (shaped to make a semicircle as though for a theatre) there lies an open space; you go up past a fountain by a middle walk to the casino. The garden is formal, and differs very much from its last state; that, however, was due to Maria Theresa. Hesitation seems to have been felt chiefly over the way the hill part was laid out, for a pleasure-house was firmly established on the top. One design, which perhaps was never carried out at all, solves the difficulty very happily with a broad cascade foaming down into a pond. Another plan, which was carried out under Maria Theresa’s rule, gives the hill divided up into different terraces with steps and grottoes and semicircular colonnades about the pleasure-house. It was not till 1775, when the garden received its present form, that the architect Hohenburg set up the pretty Gloriette (Fig. 492), an ornamental building with a room in the middle and open halls on both sides.

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 Unfortunately its fine silhouette is only shown nowadays against a background of empty field, cut up with ugly zigzag paths. This leaves a sensible gap in the whole garden picture of the castle.

One of Canaletto’s pictures gives a good view of the whole parterre, embracing all the level ground from the castle to the hill slope (Fig. 493). 

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They gave up the canal plan, in spite of the fact that a Dutchman, Steckhoven, educated in France, was the gardener at that time; they had too little sympathy with the Austrian feeling for art. The parterre itself was of course often changed according to the caprices of fashion, and about the middle of the century it was laid out with patterns on the grass à l’anglaise, and with narrow ribbons of flowers. Then in the eighties it became the mode to decorate all gardens with baskets of flowers on the lawns, and unusual flowers in bloom were set in them (cf. Fig. 547). 

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But the flower-gardens proper were partly sunk on both sides of the house like giardini secreti (Fig. 494). 
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They were separated from the great gardens by a pergola, which protected them. It was in the seventies that the parterre had the fine end-piece added, the Neptune fountain, which decorated the foot of the Gloriette hill. From the beginning the great parterre was bordered on both sides by groves, which were originally laid out as a sort of labyrinth with so-called “ apartments “ (Fig. 493, on the left). At the crossing of the main paths the eye is arrested by fine fountains with sculptures.

In the park beyond there are certain sites which, though they show different tendencies in the course of the long period when Schönbrunn was building, may very easily he admitted into the grand movement of the style that was now predominant. The menagerie shows a most marked leaning towards Versailles (Fig. 494), and this was the cherished creation of Francis I., the husband of Maria Theresa. Its plan of concentric circles was more rigidly carried out than at Versailles, and in the centre there was a pleasure house, from which the cages could be inspected, running out like the spokes of a wheel. Then Hohenburg put up a sham ruin at the foot of the hill in 1776, only a little later than the menagerie. It was on the left of the Fountain of Neptune, and fitting properly into the scene of the park (Fig. 495) it formed a good termination for one of the side avenues.

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We have often encountered this fancy for ruins in the history of gardening, but until now it has never found a suitable home. In Italy ancient ruins were utilised in the same way as antique statues. The French gardens of the grand sìècle were opposed to all fancies of the kind; they were too honest, too fond of their own proud forms, altogether too magnificent. But in the eighteenth century sentimentality had so grown into the German nature that ideas of this sort were greedily seized upon. We found forerunners in the paintings at Waghäusel and others like them, though the artists could not free themselves entirely from the formal style.

But at Schönbrunn artificial ruins came into fashion as the result of another tendency, which arrived in the second half of the eighteenth century, side by side with the sentimentality of the northern countries. This tendency was classical; it came from the South, and exercised a strong influence on garden decoration. Archæological interests, as we said before, were particularly active in Italy in the middle of the century: the important work of Winckelmann is an eloquent sign of this. But, side by side with the desire for real scientific knowledge, there went (as so often at such times) a certain lack of discrimination between what was false and what was genuine. This is indicated by the number of forgeries that flooded first Italy and then other countries. Hand in hand went a delight in imitating antique building, though in this there was no doubt a real archæological interest, as we can see in many of the erections in Italian villas, above all in the ruins at Villa Albani. In 1786 Winckelmann spent some time at Vienna as an honoured guest. It is not known for certain whether the idea of building the Hohenburg ruins emanated from him; but here, as at Albani, there is no sentimental romanticism to be detected, only delight in successful imitation; it would have been contrary to the instincts of Maria Theresa, who was gay, determined, and self-willed, and she made Schönbrunn her usual residence.

All the other statuary was of the antique character. An artist educated in Rome might revel with his fellow-workers in Greek gods and heroes, but although Italy would sometimes go wrong in her models, here they went wrong always, for they had no models. Instead, they relied on archæological handbooks and lexicons to inspire their imagination, and the result was rococo, and the affectations that we find to-day. It was in the same spirit that they first undertook the delightful task of reconstructing Roman villas with the help of Pliny's letters. But the attempt of the court architect Krusius at Dresden, and later the similar effort of von Schinkel, never transcended the limits of their own age; and in both cases nothing more came of it than the gardens of a French castle.

The rivalry in garden culture was always very keen in the Austrian crown lands. All the gardens, such as Hellbrunn and Mirabell at Salzburg, were decked out with fashionable parterres and statues; and, most of all, men’s eyes were directed towards the groves, where decorative effects were achieved (Fig. 496) that were quite foreign to what had gone before. 

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At that time the inspector at the Salzburg gardens was Franz Anton Danreiter, who translated the French instruction book, La Théorie et Pratique du Jardinage. His activities were very important, even in the garden plans that he made himself, which, to be sure, were often as much over-valued as were those of Dekker.


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Schönbrunn, outside Vienna, painted by Canaletto 1758. The palace was designed by Fischer
von Erlach for the Empress Maria Teresa.