TEMPT – The Empress Memory Team
Empress Elisabeth of Austria (1854-1898) and Queen consort of Hungary (1867-1898) was surrounded by love and worship in Hungary during her lifetime, which increased after her tragic death. This interest and admiration towards her have not decreased over more than one hundred twenty years.
Most people who love Elisabeth got to know her from Ernst Marischka’s Sissi-trilogy of the 1950s starring the beautiful actress, Romy Schneider. In Hungary, this popular cult trilogy is on one of the Hungarian TV channels every Christmas remembering, perhaps unwittingly, of Elisabeth’s birthday since the Bavarian Duchess was born on 24 December 1837. The Empress was assassinated more than one hundred and twenty years ago (10 September 1898), however, her legendary beauty and interesting personality appeal hundreds of thousands of people nowadays too.
It is very surprising for the Hungarians that in her homeland, Austria and all around Europe she did not use to be as popular and admired during her lifetime as in our country (Hungary), what is more, little interest was shown towards her then. She gained huge popularity several decades after her tragic death. However, it was not only her violent death and the above-mentioned movies, which made Elisabeth become a myth and legend but also herself!
Perhaps the Empress was unaware of the fact that it was also herself, although unintentionally, who created a mysterious atmosphere around herself. She had already become a legend partly thanks to her beauty during her lifetime. She did not allow any photos taken of her around after she became 29 and a half years old. We usually say that it was after her 30th birthday that she did not allow to be captured anymore. But we must consider the fact that on her 30th birthday (on 24 December 1867), she was pregnant with Marie Valerie, who was born on 22 April 1868. When she was pregnant, no photos were taken of her. The last official photos were taken by Emil Rabending on the occasion of the Hungarian coronation. Elisabeth had the photos taken in 1866, around one year before the coronation! Along with the coronation photos (see the first photo above), she had another photo series in which she is together with one of her greyhounds, Houseguard/Horseguard (see the photo above).
A few years after she had the last photos taken, she refused to seat in front of painters as well. Besides, she had started refusing to attend as many public appearances as it was possible since the beginning of the 1860s – of course, then she had a lot of official duties which she could not avoid. Furthermore, after the death of her only son, Crown Prince Rudolf, she rarely appeared in public, if so, she hid her face behind a fan or/and a veil that is why her old face was unknown by most of her contemporaries (and not only by us), which also added much to her myth. She carried her white umbrella everywhere, which she used to hide from the passers-by and those who wanted to take a photo of her. Some images were captured, however, Elisabeth’s face is covered (by a fan or umbrella) or only visible from the distance. She became an inaccessible, mysterious “Fairy Queen” (as she called herself in several of her poems, Titania, the Fairy Queen after the protagonist of Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream).
But what was the Empress actually like? We make an attempt to show the really interesting and complex personality of the real Elisabeth.
We have developed good working cooperation with the Hungarian Royal Palace of Gödöllő, Schloß Schönbrunn Kultur- und Betriebsges.m.b.H. and the Wien Museum, besides several other museums of the places relating to Elisabeth and the Imperial family.
“Authentic paintings have never been made of Mama. (…) And it will happen to everything that is said or written about her” – wrote Marie Valerie, Elisabeth’s daughter in her diary on 31 December 1898. The aim of the TEMPT – The Empress Memory Team is to keep the memory of Elisabeth alive and make an attempt to present her as trustworthy as it is possible in front of our Readers and Audience.
Barbara Káli-Rozmis, Researcher of Empress Elisabeth of Austria
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