Restoration of the Great Gallery at Schönbrunn Palace completed


Restoration of the Great Gallery at Schönbrunn Palace completed

For two years restoration work has been taking place in the Great Gallery, the largest state room at Schönbrunn Palace. This project is the first overall refurbishment of the magnificent festive hall at the heart of the palace to have been undertaken for more than a century. The overall aim of the project was to restore the original appearance of the room as authentically as possible. It has taken 40,000 hours of painstaking manual work to restore the ceiling frescos, repair the gilding and reconstruct the historic high-gloss white polished finish of the walls. A new and innovative lighting system that creates a similar effect to the flickering of hundreds of candles has also been installed. Now the increasing numbers of visitors to Schönbrunn Palace will be able to experience the Great Gallery in all its original glory.
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Great Gallery
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White-gold stucco decorations
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Eastern ceiling fresco
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Completion of largest restoration project undertaken to date at Schönbrunn Palace

The Great Gallery was designed as a central space for formal state events and festive occasions at Schönbrunn. Generously proportioned and opulently decorated, this festive hall is located in the central range of the palace and is 43 metres long, almost 10 metres wide and more than 9 metres high. Huge frescos decorate the ceiling, and the walls are embellished with gilt and white stucco decoration and a special high-gloss polished white finish that in bygone ages would have reflected the flickering light of hundreds of candles.
The reconstruction of this high-gloss white finish was one of the special challenges of the restoration project, the costs of which totalled € 2.3 million. It is achieved with a mixture of rabbit-skin glue and zinc white which is applied to the walls and ceiling in three layers. With each layer the proportion of zinc white is increased. After this, the surfaces are rubbed down with a small amount of Venetian soap powder using linen scrim cloths in preparation for the crucial and most labour-intensive phase of the work: in order to achieve the lustrous high-gloss finish the surfaces have to be polished with agates. "The polishing is done entirely by hand and has to be carried out applying an even pressure and in one direction only in order to achieve a streak-free finish", explains SKB Managing Director Wolfgang Kippes. "It demands finger-tip sensitivity, highly-developed skills and immense patience from the restorers." This also explains the enormous amount of time needed for the restoration. "The polished white finish was renewed and the gilding touched up over a total surface area of 700 m?. A single square metre took around 55 working hours", Kippes continued.
The remaining part of the total of 40,000 hours of manual work needed for the refurbishment of the Great Gallery was accounted for by the restoration of the ceiling frescos. Painted by the Italian artist Gregorio Guglielmi, the three frescos represent the prosperity of the monarchy under Maria Theresa in the central panel, with allegories of Peace and War in the panels on the west and east side respectively. The east panel was destroyed by a bomb during the Second World War and reconstructed on the basis of photographs during the late 1940s. As it was almost impossible to get hold of anyone who had experience of fresco painting at that time, a scene painter called Paul Reckendorfer was hired. While he managed the difficult task of restoring the fresco without having a true-colour model to refer to, he overlooked the fact that undesirable variations in colour can occur at the boundaries of the 'giornate', that is, the individual sections of wet plaster that can be painted within the space of a single working day. "One of the tasks of the fresco painters the SKB commissioned to carry out the restoration was to disguise these boundaries where possible", explained Wolfgang Kippes. In general the work undertaken on the frescos focused on restoring their original vibrant colours and contrasts. These had become affected by the presence of moisture in the gypseous plaster underneath the painting, which had led to the appearance of a white precipitate on the darker portions. In addition, parts of the fresco that had been corrected by Guglielmi himself had darkened to an extreme degree.
An important innovation that will make a considerable contribution to recreating the historically authentic appearance of this room is the new lighting system. One of the specifications of the project was to preserve as far as possible the Great Gallery's electrical system, which was designed by Thomas Alva Edison. However, it was also hoped to install state-of-the-art lighting which would imitate candlelight as closely as possible in order to create similar effects on the high-gloss finish of the walls. This has been successfully achieved with the use of candle-flame shaped crystal LED lights which simulate flickering candlelight.
The more than 5,000 visitors a day who tour the state rooms at Schönbrunn Palace will now be able to see the Great Gallery restored to a state that largely approximates to its authentic historical condition. This World Cultural Heritage Site thus now offers an even more authentic experience of its imperial past. And that appeals to visitors, as the rising numbers show: "In the first three months of the current year numbers rose by a further 9 per cent", stated SKB Managing Director Franz Sattlecker.
                 Ph.D. in Technologies for the Exploitation
                 of the Cultural Heritage .
                 Senior Lecturer in the Dept. of ArchitectureE-mail:

                 College of Engineering , University of Mosul 
                 Mosul - Iraq .

Tel :           +964 (0)770 164 93 74