Imperial Austria: Treasures of Art, Arms and Armor from the State of Styria

At the Canadian Museum of Civilization from 24 November 1995 to 15 September 1996.
This exhibition was produced by the Musée de la civilisation in Quebec City. The objects in the exhibition are graciously lent by the Government of the State of Styria from the Steiermärkisches Landesmuseum Joanneum in Graz, Austria, and private lenders.

Ruled by the Hapsburg dynasty from the Late Middle Ages to the early twentieth century, Austria has long been one of the great cultural and political centres of Europe. As a gateway between East and West, this strategic region was often forced to defend its land, its culture, and its religion against outside invaders. Imperial Austria: Treasures of Art, Arms and Armor from the State of Styria chronicles a fascinating period in Austria's cultural history.

    Three-quarter armor for a nobleman, made in Innsbruck, c.1550, by Michel Witz the Younger; Joanneum Graz, Landeszeughaus. Photo: Richard Margolis
    Austrian master armorer Michel Witz made this exquisite suit for an unknown but important client. The craftsman decorated the armor with a black-and-white finish, with alternating bright, polished surfaces and darkened areas. In addition, the armor has been embossed in part, a process whereby the metal was hammered and raised from within, producing a relief on the outside. Here Witz has created a utilitarian masterpiece. It is an imposing and dramatic protection for its owner and a highly accomplished expression of Baroque decoration applied to metal that includes grotesque masks on shoulders, elbows and knees as well as foliate decoration throughout.

Styria is one of Austria's nine provinces. Its capital is Graz, which also happens to be the second largest city in Austria. Imperial Austria surveys a period in Styria's history when the province was a borderland held by the Hapsburg dynasty, often serving as a point of collision between the Catholic Holy Roman Empire and the Islamic Ottoman Empire.

The region served as a critical strategic outpost against the westward invasion of the Ottoman Turks, and Graz became its most important regional arsenal. Graz's strategic location and the presence of abundant iron ore - a critical raw material - contributed to the Landeszeughaus's importance as a repository for arms and armor. In the last quarter of the fifteenth century, the Ottomans invaded Styria three times, beginning two hundred years of aggression against the territory, and culminating in the Ottomans' final confrontation in Styria at the Battle of Mogersdorf (1664).

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Sources of texts and images:

Dubuc, Cécile. 1995. Scénario de visite commentée destinée au grand public. Quebec: Musée de la civilisation.

Imperial Austria: Treasures of Art, Arms & Armor from the State of Styria. English Version of Exhibition Texts. 1995. Quebec: Musée de la civilisation.

Krenn, Peter. 1991. The Landeszeughaus of Graz. Graz: Bonechi Verlag Styria.

Krenn, Peter and Walter J. Karcheski. 1991. Imperial Austria: Treasures of Art, Arms & Armor from the State of Styria. Munich: Prestel-Verlag and Houston: Museum of Fine Arts.

Date created: November 16, 1995Last updated: July 13, 2001