5 o’ clock tea for Maria Theresa
“I know of no worse plague than this nation.”
These words were written by no one less than the “First Lady of Europe,” Maria Theresa (1717–1780), whose 300th birthday was celebrated in 2017. In the diverse exhibitions about the most important ruler of her time, one chapter is mostly omitted or only mentioned marginally: her pronouncedly negative attitude towards Jewish women and men. In her rejection, supposedly influenced by her deep Catholicism, she followed in the footsteps of her father. Although Emperor Charles VI (1685–1740) had enacted humiliating regulations for Jewish women and men, the so-called “Jewish Regulations,” Maria Theresa tightened these even further and, on December 18, 1744, in the middle of a hard winter, subsequently ordered the expulsion of Jewish women and men from Prague. At the same time, she lacked capital for the completion of her summer residence, Schönbrunn Castle, which she readily accepted from the Jewish businessman Diego d’Aguilar. She also chose Joseph von Sonnenfels, the son of a rabbi, as one of her advisors, apparently only because his family had already converted to Christianity. Three years before she died, she described Jews as the “worst plague.”
It was reported that Maria Theresa exclusively received Jews she had summoned to finance the wars and her lifestyle while concealed behind a linen screen. Here the screen became a symbol of a misanthropic distance that was tantamount to her obsessive effort to spatially separate Jews in Vienna from non-Jews.
The Jewish Museum Vienna remembers this oppressive aspect in the biography of the empress who shaped Austria like hardly anyone before her. The artist Eva Schlegel was invited to design a new work for the permanent exhibition with this symbol. A Rococo screen from Schönbrunn Castle and a prayer of thanksgiving from the year 1757 for “Her Majesty, the Most Merciful Empress” by Jews who had returned to Prague served Eva Schlegel as a source of inspiration for her work. The artist thus enables a memorial room to be established in the permanent exhibition “Our City! Jewish Vienna – Then to Now” that remembers people in front of and behind degrading barriers
Director Danielle Spera and Chief Curator Werner Hanak-Lettner in conversation with the artist Eva Schlegel
We thank Teehaus Demmer for the support at the 5 o’ clock tea.
Advanced booking requested: Tel.: +43 1 535 04 31-110 or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Free admission as of 6:45 p.m.