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Franz is Here! Franz Ferdinand's Voyage Round the World" opens at the Weltmuseum in Vienna
Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria-Este with his first elephant. Kalawewa, Sri Lanka. Photograph: Eduard Hodek junior© KHM mit MVK und ÖTM.

VIENNA.- On June 28, 2014 the world commemorates the centenary of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the Austrian heir to the throne, at Sarajevo, which led to the outbreak of the First World War. Many museums focus on his death and its fatal consequences but in the exhibition “Franz Is Here!” (this was the headline in an American paper announcing his arrival in the US) the Weltmuseum Wien is instead taking a look at a seminal episode in his life: impelled by curiosity and an lively interest in unfamiliar civilizations, Archduke Franz Ferdinand explored strange and distant countries and continents in the course of his ten-month-long round-the-world trip in 1892/3. He documented this journey not only in his detailed two-volume diary but also by acquiring countless artefacts. As the man who had the wing of Hofburg Palace that now houses the Weltmuseum Wien adapted as a private museum for the collection assembled during his circumnavigation of the globe Franz Ferdinand plays a pivotal role in the history of the Weltmuseum Wien. The show thus offers new insights into the Archduke’s multi-facetted but polarizing personality, and showcases a unique but little-known imperial collection.

After the suicide of his liberal cousin, Crown-Prince Rudolf, in 1889 Franz Ferdinand of Austria-Este (1863-1914) was regarded as heir presumptive to the Austro-Hungarian throne because his aged father, Archduke Charles Louis, was only three years younger than his uncle, Emperor Franz Joseph I.

According to his diary Franz Ferdinand decided to prepare for his future role at the helm of the Austro-Hungarian Empire by “experiencing first-hand other continents, studying foreign states and polities, meeting different peoples and individuals, and learning about foreign cultures and habits” and by “visiting marvellous works of art and nature in strange and foreign places” to savour “their inexhaustible charms”. It was not easy to persuade Emperor Franz Joseph to give his permission but on December 15, 1892 Franz Ferdinand, aged 29, embarked on his ten-month-long round-the-world trip by boarding at Trieste SMS Kaiserin Elisabeth, a protected cruiser and the most modern ship in the Austro-Hungarian Navy.

Combining sightseeing and hunting excursions was a long-established Habsburg tradition. In addition, sending a high-ranking family member to foreign courts allowed the Austro-Hungarian Empire to fly the flag in the Far East. It was not at all unusual for ships of the Austrian Navy to participate in scientific research. In 1857 Archduke Ferdinand Maximilian, later Emperor of Mexico and Ferdinand’s uncle, had initiated the expedition undertaken by the frigate “Novara”, which had completed the first Austrian circumnavigation of the globe. From then on collecting natural history or ethnographic specimens in the course of official or training voyages in transoceanic waters became a routine event for ships of the Imperial Navy.

Franz Ferdinand‘s carefully organized trip combined official duties, sightseeing and the opportunity to satisfy his love of hunting and of collecting strange objects and curiosities in exotic parts of the world. The first leg of his round-the-world trip (December 1892 – August 1893) took the heir presumptive on official missions to India, Dutch-India (now Indonesia), Australia, Melanesia, China and Japan. However, for the second leg of his tour (August – October 1893), which took him to Canada and the United States and back to his “beloved Vienna”, he used the alias Count Artstetten to travel incognito.

Franz Ferdinand was a passionate collector. In addition to countless hunting trophies and taxidermies he amassed several natural history collections (c. 18.000 objects in total) and a unique ethnographic collection of seminal cultural-historical importance (over 14.000 objects).

The future heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne was almost obsessed with collecting, acquiring everything from cheap tourist trinkets to exquisite works of art: „It is strange how easily a traveller succumbs to shopping-mania in foreign countries. He feels the need to buy everything, every small object, regardless of whether it is beautiful or ugly, sometimes even acquiring tourist bric-a-brac, in order to bring home something that is typical of this particular place”. He satisfied his desire for new acquisitions and trophies in bazaars as well as in the shops of local artisans. “Whole cartloads” are loaded onto the Kaiserin Elisabeth. But Franz Ferdinand also acquired complete collections, among them the one assembled by Gerrit W.W.C. Baron van Hövel, the explorer of Dutch-India. He was also presented with countless gifts reflecting his taste by local rulers. In addition, Franz Ferdinand asked the gentlemen of his retinue to buy objects specified in lists drawn-up by him in advance. He also decided to commission artefacts he had encountered in museums. His focus was generally on an object’s visual and decorative qualities. Be they originals, copies or imitations, Franz Ferdinand suffered from “museomania” and acquired them all for display in a planned museum (”for my museum”). The year after his return the extensive ethnographic and natural history collection he had assembled during his round-the-world trip was installed in Upper Belvedere Palace. The „Wiener Zeitung“ published daily attendance figures, and all entrance fees went to charity. Later the collection was moved to Modena-Este Palace, where it was displayed together with the Este Collection Franz Ferdinand had inherited in 1875, forming the period’s largest private museum in Vienna.

In 1906 Emperor Franz Joseph asked Franz Ferdinand to complete the new wing of Hofburg Palace in central Vienna; between 1909 and 1912 the acquisitions he had brought back from his roundthe- world trip were displayed in the wing of the Neue Hofburg known as Corps de Logis; today, these grand rooms house the galleries of the Weltmuseum Wien. After the fall of the Austro-Hungarian Empire the whole collection amassed by Franz Ferdinand during his round-the-world trip fell to the Republic of Austria; in 1920 it was incorporated into the Natural History Museum. In 1926 the ethnographic department of the Natural History Museum and Franz Ferdinand’s world-collection were combined and displayed in the Corps de Logis; in 1928 this evolved into the Museum für Völkerkunde (Ethnological Museum), which is now the Weltmuseum Wien.

Franz Ferdinand had everything in any way connected with his round-the-world trip preserved and filed: his world-trip library, maps used during his journey, photographs and souvenir albums, clippings from Austrian and foreign newspapers, receipts, letters and telegrams. For the exhibition “Franz Is Here!” the Weltmuseum Wien was able to draw on its rich holdings, among them taxidermies and hunting trophies, which are augmented by loans from the zoological department of the Natural History Museum.

The artistic sensibilities of the heir to the Austro-Hungarian Empire were informed by the Italian Renaissance. In his private museum he was not interested in explaining the foreign civilisations he had visited. The installation reflected his itinerary but, like the collections assembled by scholars and princes in the Renaissance, the arrangement of objects was primarily governed by questions of aesthetics and décor. He did not differentiate between the sublime and the vulgar, between specimens of natural history and man-made artefacts. The display of huge amounts of ethnographic and natural history objects together with photographs and hunting trophies displayed on the walls functions as publicity and self-fashioning; it also allowed Franz Ferdinand to remember and reminisce about his “trip around the world”.

The installation of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria-Este’s round-the-world collection at the Weltmuseum Wien reflects this concept of “juxtaposed objects” placed side by side in gigantic seed boxes, a concept first encountered in the chambers of natural wonders assembled by Renaissance collectors.

Immediately after his return Franz Ferdinand published the two-volume diary he had kept during his journey. In a frequently highly-personal style he describes his impressions and experiences, his encounters with princes, emperors and Maharajas and conjures up exotic landscapes and people, much of it informed by attitudes that clearly show him to be a man of his time. With the help of selected quotes from his over-a-thousand-pages-long diary Franz Ferdinand himself – aided by the actor Cornelius Obonya, who will lend him his voice - will show visitors round the exhibition.

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