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 a hundred year.
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 one hundred and twenty years ago (10 September 1898), however, her legendary beauty, her interesting personality and her life filled with several tragedies appeal hundreds of thousands of people nowadays too. There are many entertaining, touching and authentic-like scenes in the movies, however, most of them have nothing to do with the historical reality. However, it is pretty sure if the historical Elisabeth had been someone like the protagonist of Ernst Marischka’s trilogy, not as many people would be interested in her today as there are.
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. However, she gained popularity several decades after her a 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 her figure. She had already become a legend partly thanks to her beauty during her own lifetime. She did not allow any photos taken of her after her early 30s, and soon 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. Furthermore, after the death of her only son, Crown Prince Rudolf, she hardly ever 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 as well as, of course, 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, in them, Elisabeth’s face is covered. 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). She left the impression of a young, slender, beautiful and mysterious empress on the history.
But what was Sisi actually like? I do not present the protagonist of the beautiful Romy Schneider films but make an attempt to show the really interesting and complex personality of the real Elisabeth. Many people including historians, curators and researchers try to analyse her behaviour, personality and feelings. They usually understand, but sometimes misunderstand and misinterpret her. There are so many sources which have not been studied yet including some which have only come to light recently. So we must update our image of the Empress over and over again.
I have developed a 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.
The aim of the TEMPT – The Empress Memory Team is to keep the memory of Elisabeth alive with a view of presenting the unbiased and up to date image of the Empress in front of our Readers and Audience.
Barbara Káli-Rozmis, Researcher of Empress Elisabeth of Austria