Giants, Dracula & Werewolves…Oh My!

Ferdinand of Tyrol©KHM-Museumsverband

Happy Friday! Today we’re continuing our trek through the Austrian Alps with a tour through Schloss Ambras, a Renaissance castle built in 1567 by Ferdinand II of Tyrol (1529-1595).  A member of the Habsburg Dynasty, Ferdinand was appointed Prince of Tyrol in 1564.  An avid collector, Ferdinand filled Schloss Ambras with his collection of art, armor, weapons, and “wonders of nature”.  Schloss Ambras is divided into an upper and lower castle.  Today we’ll explore the Rüstkammern (Armories) and Kunst- und Wunderkammer (Arts & Curiosities), located in the lower castle.

Bartlmä Bon Armor©KHM-Museumsverband

Chambers of Armor:  Ferdinand’s extensive collection of weapons, armor, and portraits of military commanders pays tribute to his Habsburg relatives.  Faceless knights stand at attention or straddle wooden horses with halberds, lances, and swords at the ready.  In another room, an array of weapons ascends each wall in cleverly arranged columns.  There are portraits of nobleman preening in their flashy armor or gallantly charging into battle.

One of the more curious exhibits features the armor of Bartlmä Bon, an Italian farmer who stood over 7 feet tall.  He was a companion of Ferdinand’s nephew and together they competed in various tournaments (i.e., jousting and other knightly play).  The exhibit emphasizes Bartlmä’s extreme height by flanking his 8 foot 5 inch mannequin with models sporting the child-sized armor of Ferdinand’s sons and grandsons.

Pedro Gonzales(born in 1556)©KHM-Museumsverband

Chamber of Art and Curiosities:  The Chamber of Art and Curiosities is based on the wunderkammer (curiosity cabinets) that were all the rage in 16th century Europe.  Ferdinand’s massive collection of art, artifacts, and specimens is a hoarder’s delight.  It includes a stuffed shark, samurai armor, turbans, clocks, hunting trophies, a glass bell piano, and scads of coral.  There is a portrait of Vlad the Impaler (1431-1476), yes…Dracula!  And not one, but three portraits of “hair men”.  Pedro Gonzales, along with his son and daughter—who is obviously not a man—suffered from hypertrichosis (aka werewolf syndrome).  This extremely rare genetic disorder causes copious amounts of hair to grow on the face and body.  Passed around like exotic pets by European royalty, the Habsburg clan commissioned the portraits of Pedro and his children.  Like any compulsive collector, Ferdinand swooped in and added the paintings to his Schloss Ambras stash.  Click on the Gonzales family link to learn more about their unusual history.

Philippine Welser©KHM-Museumsverband

Freaky Marital Facts: Despite being betrothed to several princesses throughout his early life, including Mary Tudor (1516-1558), and Mary Stuart (1542-1587), Ferdinand secretly married Philippine Welser (1527-1580) in 1557.  Because she was the daughter of a nobleman and merchant, the couple kept their marriage under wraps for two years. Ferdinand eventually fessed up to his powerful father, Ferdinand I, King of Bohemia and Hungary, and patriarch of the Austrian Habsburgs.  This outpouring of truthiness most likely came as a result of Philippine’s pregnancy and the subsequent birth of their first child, Andreas (1558-1600).  Once public, their marriage was deemed morganatic, in other words, because of Philippine’s lower rank, she nor her children could claim any titles or possessions of her husband and the Habsburgs.  Philippine and Ferdinand had another son, Karl (1560–1618) and were married for 23 years, up until her death in 1580.  Two years later, Ferdinand married his niece, Anna Caterina of Gonzaga-Mantua (1566–1621).  There was no fuss over Ferdinand’s new bride, despite the fact that she was 16 years old (37 years his junior) and, more importantly, his sister’s daughter.  Anna Caterina was of the proper rank, a detail that far outweighed concerns like child brides and inbreeding.  Their 13-year marriage produced three daughters.

Next week we’ll hike up the hill to the upper castle and learn more about 16th-century bathrooms and the dangers of inbreeding. Until then have a great week!



Brown University

Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien


Minneapolis Institute of Art

Schloss Ambras

One thought on “Giants, Dracula & Werewolves…Oh My!

Comments are closed.

Create a website or blog at

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: