The Landscape Guide

The New Building in Vienna, Austria

Only a short time after Ferdinand had made Ambras the glory of his Tyrolese land, his elder brother Maximilian II. created in the neighbourhood of Vienna a castle of pleasure that not only caused admiration in his contemporaries and surprised wonder in succeeding generations, but has offered many a riddle to ourselves. On the south-east of the Vienna there is still, on a height, a square place surrounded by battlemented walls. These are topped by towers at regular intervals, but in the front, facing the Danube, where the main building is, the towers are wanting. This gives a warlike appearance, so that to-day it seems only natural that there should be a powder magazine there guarded by a row of sentinels in front of their sentry-boxes. But as a fact within what looks like a girdle of fortresses a “ Tusculum “ had been erected by one of the most peace-loving of princes. The period of Maximilian’s reign brought to the noble-minded ruler many conflicts and sorrows, which saddened his life and left him unsettled; through all his troubles there remained the longing for peace, which he found best in his architectural and gardening interests, as he repeatedly writes to his friend Veit von Dornburg, the Venetian ambassador.

About the year 1569, when we first hear of the emperor’s villa, the works at the “Pheasantry", as it was then called, were in full swing. The name probably came from an earlier pheasantry in the same place, but years later the dull name of “ New Building” was used instead, which points to the fact that Maximilian’s successor, Rudolph II., completed the main building. What Maximilian had done himself became, two generations later, a very unusual sort of place, which rightly appeared to a good Viennese to have no connection with anything outside; and from the middle of the seventeenth century there was a common legend that could not be got rid of—that the emperor had converted an old camp of Sultan Soliman into a country house. When it was finished the Neugebäude [New Building] in Vienna must certainly have presented a far more warlike appearance than it does to-day, for inside the tower-crowned circle of walls there was a second barrier (Fig. 362). 

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There was a square exactly the width of the villa, which was enclosed by a wide wall with arcades: at its four corners it was topped by high two-storied turrets, whose dome-shaped roofs cased in copper commanded a distant view over the outer walls, while on the arcade roof itself there was a fine promenade. This square included the upper flower-garden, divided into sixteen beds in a geometrical pattern, two of which showed the Austrian arms, the double eagle, and were provided with many fountains. The arcades and the pavilions in the corner turrets were finely painted.

From the upper garden one passed next into a narrow court dividing the garden from the villa. This was enclosed on the valley side by a loggia in the real Italian style. Hence one could see over the lower gardens, which fell away towards the Danube in four terraces, first two narrow ones planted with trees, next a flower-garden in size and situation almost the same as the upper ones, and on the lowest of all a large pond—so at any rate it appears to be in the engravings. Bongarsius, a Swiss visitor, who saw the gardens when they were completed in 1585, speaks of two ponds, but this may not be quite accurate, for he makes no mention of the beautiful fountains adorned with statues which (according to the account of expenses) were set up in the lower gardens. Round the flower-garden of the highest terrace stretched the park within the great battlemented and tower-crowned walls : it was approached through two immense gates on either side. Bongarsius thus describes it: “Round the flower-garden there is a park of fruit-trees planted well, and a fine labyrinth; in the middle of the whole park there is a trench three or four feet wide, marked out by stones, and getting its water from a hill a mile and a half away.”

To what class does this place belong as a whole, so separate as it is from any German natural development ? The builder of it is unknown, and the court of Hapsburg at that time was quite cosmopolitan. Maximilian himself, great as was his personal inclination towards German Protestantism, employed only foreigners for his works of art, and Italian sculptors and painters were working on the New Buildings. Also for the fortified parts, which Austria at that time constantly had to keep up with a view to the danger threatening from Turkey, the emperor always employed Italian architects. The house at New Building, with its Italian features, leaves no doubt as to the builder’s nationality, and so it seems quite possible that one of the architects for fortifications also designed the whole of the garden. We have Italian examples in Vignola’s work at Caprarola, and San Michele’s charming villa San Vigilio on Lake Garda; and in common with this last we have the swallow-tails on the outside walls; and if San Michele used a fortified tongue of land as a garden-motive, why should not a Venetian architect adopt the tent of an encampment as the ground-plan for a villa?

It remains, however, a strange thing, that the artist should have made anything very anti-Italian in the terrace arrangement of these gardens. The strict axial line has something bald and matter-of-fact in its character that is always avoided in Italian gardens, whether it is by breaking off the set plan, or by introducing important crossways, or by dividing the water-works, or by getting some picturesque grouping of the terraces, more or less as at San Vigilio. On the other hand, to find in Italy an axial order carried out with steps or through an exaggerated emphasis laid on the middle line, we need only think of Villa d’Este. In this place there is nothing of that kind, and however severe the axial line of the gardens in relation to one another, they are each individually treated and separated off in the true northern style. The castellated wall cuts off the upper garden with its arcades from court and house alike. The lower terraces have as a rule no intercommunication, and one would be unable to get into the separate gardens if there were not now a friendly corridor leading as a covered way to the lower ones. 

The water is only applied as shell fountains, canals, and ponds—ideas and arrangements that we have long been familiar with in France. The upper garden with its arcades may be more or less likened to Bury, and the corner turrets in both places are turned into pavilions by being painted. The same treatment of arcades is found in nearly all the French gardens, and still more do we feel the resemblance in the wide canals ending in tanks.

The relations between the Hapsburg court and the French were much strained at this period, but later King Henry III, was received at Vienna with great pomp when he was on his journey to take the throne of Poland. Artists of all countries were at that time a wandering folk, and at the Viennese court there was always a great deal doing. We do not hear much about actual plantation, but in 1537 Maximilian succeeded in getting the famous botanist Clusius as Inspector of Gardens, and his presence vouches for the cultivation of unusual trees and plants in these gardens. The happy time for the villa was of short duration, for by the end of the century lamentations began about its decay, and in the middle of the seventeenth century buildings and gardens both had lost not only their beauty but also their festive character. Instead of merry guests, wild beasts were entertained there; buildings and gardens became a mere menagerie. At this time was started the fairy-tale about the Turkish camp, and when in 1683 the dreaded Turks really invaded, the legend was so far dressed up that the foreign soldiers were reported to have wept at the sight of the ancient camp of Sultan Soliman. For us, however, this New Building remains as a unique document of German garden art, just because it stands alone and unconnected. The stream of art presses forward from outside, and is greedily absorbed, but without steadfastness, with no national feeling, which ought properly to accept what is foreign merely as an incentive to its own fruitful development.