Vienna, seat of the Hapsburg Empire, was ideally suited to join the historic revival which was sweeping the rest of 19th century Europe. Not only did the Imperial Treasury house the most inspiring mediaeval and renaissance objects but Austria and nearby Hungary had an unequalled history of enamelled jewellery production.
From 1867, Dual Monarchy with Hungary provided access to a prolific source of rock crystal and other hardstones which inspired the creation of objects which used such materials, much in the same way as the encouragement to use Saxon mineral mines had fired Neuber and Stiehl in 18th century Dresden. At the London 1871 Exhibition, the cost of a "Vase of Rock Crystal, silver mounts" shown by Ratzersdorfer, the leading Vienna goldsmith, was £140. Vienna was also already in the forefront of the movement to improve modern design with the opening of dedicated museums and Applied Art Schools which provided informed assistance and were ultimately to sow the seeds for the Secession revolt. Furthermore, it was decided that Vienna too should have its own International Exhibition in 1873 with half its space devoted to promoting the Austrian Empire, and half for the rest of the world. The Exhibition was ill-starred: the United States did not show, the premises were not finished for the opening ceremony, the Vienna Stock Exchange collapsed, cholera broke out and visitors, such as Sir Richard Burton, complained bitterly of the high prices. Exceptionally, critics and public praised the neo-Renaissance creations of the Viennese goldsmiths which were said to light up the gloomy Exhibition Rotunda with their colour and sparkle. Unusually, the present toilet set manages to combine the quality and drama of such Kunstkammer objects with the practical.
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