It is a fine thing as a beginner to be facing forward into a great future; still finer to be in possession of a great past and a strong footing in the present to be striding towards a shining future: it is however a terrible thing to be aware of a great past but to have a future no longer. (Maximilian of Mexico, Aus meinem Leben [From My Life])
Although Archduke Ferdinand Maximilian led an eventful life which is recorded in detail in historical sources, his name tends to be associated primarily with the failure of his dreams of imperial rule in Mexico and his violent death.
An imaginative and creative man who loved nature, the young archduke had benefited from an excellent education. Even as a child he had developed specific interests that would come to define his personality in adulthood. These included architecture, collecting, botanical science and a love of the sea and seafaring. His personal problem was his lot as the second-born son. He constantly felt himself overshadowed by his elder brother, the emperor Franz Joseph, who was vested with all the trappings of worldly power. Ferdinand Max was keen to place his abilities at the service of the Austrian Monarchy but was more than once relieved of his duties without receiving any recognition. It was his ambition and thirst for recognition that spurred him to throw himself into the risky imperial venture in Mexico, where he hoped finally to make his mark in the international arena. Although he made attempts – albeit ultimately unsuccessful – to establish a liberal constitutional monarchy in Mexico, he seemed to be more interested in designing and implementing the external ceremonial trappings of his emperorship. A certain changeableness of character and his tendency to avoid problems combined with a disregard for reality and overestimation of his own position proved stumbling blocks to the exercise of power and his ability to assert himself politically.
Maximilian’s keen interest in architectural design is attested to by the residences he commissioned, in particular Miramare Castle near Trieste, which he regarded as the monument to his life and his legacy to the world. Even as a young man, he wanted to use the imposing interiors and lavish décor of his residences to create a princely atmosphere that would reflect the exemplary ruler he aspired to be. With great energy and expenditure he assembled collections for display in a museum which included artefacts from Ancient Egypt and objects relating to ethnology and the natural sciences together with items that had a personal association. The museum was intended to historicize a personality that evidently feared it was destined for historical oblivion.
This exhibition will take the visitor into the world of his designs, focusing on his residences and extensive collections together with his politics and dreams of imperial rule in Mexico. The story of Emperor Maximilian’s life is told through numerous personal mementoes that have been painstakingly assembled to make his life and work tangible to the visitor.
Maximilian of Mexico: The dream of imperial rule
6 March – 18 August 2013
Ilsebill Barta, Marlene Ott-Wodni
„Maximilian von Mexiko: Der Traum vom Herrschen“, Ilsebill Barta (Hg.)