History of the Family and the Collections
The Princely House of Liechtenstein is one of the oldest still extant noble lineages in Europe. The first documented bearer of this name was a Hugo von Liechtenstein, mentioned in archival sources dating to between 1120 and 1143. He called himself after the fortress of Liechtenstein in Lower Austria to the south of Vienna, which was bought back into the family in 1807.
Heinrich I (1233–1266) received the freehold of the castle and village of Nikolsburg (Mikulov) in southern Moravia in 1249, the first property to be owned by the Liechtensteins in the Crown Land of Bohemia. Over the following centuries Nikolsburg was always of great political and economic significance, and until its sale in 1560 constituted the centre of the Liechtenstein estates together with Eisgrub (Lednice in southern Moravia, acquired in 1370) and Feldsberg (Valtice, acquired between 1389 and 1391; in Lower Austria until 1919).
Around 1600 the three sons of Hartmann II von Liechtenstein, Karl, Maximilian and Gundaker, ushered in a new period in the family history. At the height of the religious conflicts in Europe they converted from Protestantism to the Catholic faith. Emperor Rudolf II appointed Prince Karl I von Liechtenstein (1569–1627) ‘Obersthofmeister’ (head of the emperor’s household and the highest position at court) and president of the Privy Council. However, in the Habsburg ‘Bruderzwist’ or fraternal feud he took the side of Rudolf‘s brother Archduke Matthias. In gratitude for this Matthias invested Karl with the hereditary dignity of prince on 20 December 1608, the first of the family to bear this title. In 1614 and 1623 Karl I was enfeoffed with the two Silesian duchies of Troppau (Opava) and Jägerndorf (Krnov), both of which are still present in the family’s coat of arms.
During the rebellion of the Bohemian and Austrian Estates, Karl I came down unequivocally on the side of Emperor Ferdinand II. After the victory for the imperial Catholic forces at the battle of White Mountain in 1620, Karl I was entrusted with the arrest of members and followers of the opposition and their execution on the Old Town Square in Prague. The prince conducted the trials with scrupulous care, recommending in several cases that the death penalty should not be applied. Karl was able to expand his possessions considerably through the acquisition of confiscated estates that had previously been owned by certain of the rebels.
In 1623 Emperor Ferdinand II raised Maximilian and Gundaker to the rank of hereditary princes. The three brothers had already concluded a family agreement in 1606 determining that the first-born male of the reigning line would represent the dynasty to the outside world. At the same time they also entailed part of the family fortune, making it the inalienable and indivisible property of the family. The first-born male of the reigning line was entitled to make use of these possessions.
Since their elevation to the rank of imperial princes, the House of Liechtenstein had devoted its efforts to acquiring a territory immediate to the Empire (i.e., self-governing under the emperor). The path towards this goal was blazed by Karl I's grandson Prince Johann Adam Andreas I von Liechtenstein (1657–1712) with the purchase of the demesnes of Schellenberg and Vaduz in 1699 and 1712. After Karl I's line died out in 1712, Anton Florian I von Liechtenstein (1656–1721), a descendant of Gundaker, became the reigning prince. During his reign Vaduz and Schellenberg were united and raised to the Principality of Liechtenstein as confirmed in a deed issued by Emperor Charles VI on 23 January 1719.
During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries Liechtenstein lay at the periphery of the family’s interests, since their most important residences were located in Vienna and at Eisgrub and Feldsberg, in the central regions of the Habsburg Monarchy. In 1806 the Principality of Liechtenstein was admitted to the Confederation of the Rhine established by Napoleon, and its sovereignty was subsequently confirmed at the Congress of Vienna in 1815.
In 1938 Prince Franz Josef II von und zu Liechtenstein (1906–1989) moved his permanent residence to Vaduz. After the Second World War the family lost a substantial part of its resources through the uncompensated expropriation of its estates in the territory of the present-day Czech Republic. Since the 1970s, through the reorganization of the princely enterprises and the family assets, Prince Hans-Adam II von und zu Liechtenstein (b. 1945) has created a solid economic basis for all future activities, including the preservation, upkeep and expansion of the Princely Collections while also ensuring that they are accessible to the general public.
The Princely House today provides the head of the Principality of Liechtenstein, which has been in existence for over 300 years. In a monarchy that is unique in the world, the Prince and the people exercise state power together.
THE COLLECTIONS OF THE PRINCES OF LIECHTENSTEIN
The Princely Collections can look back on a history spanning more than six centuries. Each reigning prince according to his own tastes contributed to expanding and enriching the Collections. In this long line of princes a particularly important role was played by Prince Karl Eusebius I von Liechtenstein (1611–1684) and Prince Johann Adam Andreas I von Liechtenstein, who acquired a wealth of Flemish painting on the international fine art market. In 1712 the gallery of Johann Adam Andreas I probably boasted more than fifty paintings by Peter Paul Rubens.
Of central importance was the decision taken by Prince Johann I von Liechtenstein (1760–1836) in 1810 to use the Liechtenstein Garden Palace as a gallery and to open it to the public for a fee. The prince assembled the most important holdings from the City Palace on Bankgasse in Vienna and from other residences in the Garden Palace in the suburb of Rossau, making them accessible to the public at large for the first time.
Following the ‘Anschluss’ in 1938 the building was closed to the public. In the same year, for the first time in its history, the family moved its official residence to Vaduz, transferring their art treasures there in a highly risky operation during the final weeks of the war. The capital of Liechtenstein has remained the seat of the Collections of the Princes von und zu Liechtenstein to this day.
The Collections suffered painful losses when economic circumstances necessitated the sale of works of art after 1945, including the famous portrait of Ginevra de’ Benci by Leonardo da Vinci, today the pride of the National Gallery in Washington. The Reigning Prince Hans-Adam II has been able to make good these losses over recent decades with major new acquisitions, adding new splendour to the Collections.
On 24 March 2004 the Garden Palace in the Rossau quarter finally reopened as the LIECHTENSTEIN MUSEUM, after a selection of the most important works had been transferred there from Vaduz, thereby once again reviving the centuries-old tradition of the Princely Collections. Today a selection of masterpieces from the early Renaissance to the Baroque gives visitors to the Garden Palace a sense of the variety and opulence of one of the largest and most important family collections in the world, one which is continually being expanded and enriched through restoration of existing works and new acquisitions.
A further highlight in the post-war history of the Collections is the renovation of the Liechtenstein City Palace on Bankgasse, which following five years of meticulous restoration was finally returned to its former glory in 2013. The palace contains the Period Rooms that were fitted out in Rococo Revival style between 1837 and 1848 and today are open to the public as the setting for a fascinating mix of masterpieces of neoclassical and Biedermeier art.
The suite of rooms in the south wing contain a concise selection of works from the Viennese Biedermeier era, some of which were already held in the Princely Collections and others that have been acquired by Hans-Adam II over the past decades. They include important portraits, landscapes and genre paintings by Ferdinand Georg Waldmüller, Friedrich von Amerling, Franz Eybl and Friedrich Gauermann together with Viennese porcelain and precious furniture, giving an insight into the lifestyle and décor of the time. From 2012 access to both palaces has been offered in the form of booked guided tours.