Visit the Imperial Armory in Vienna (Hofjagd- und Rüstkammer) to see a large collection of knight harnesses, weapons, and jousting armor.
The Imperial Armory in the Neue Hofburg in Vienna has the largest and most impressive collection of European knight’s armor and related weapons, harnesses, costumes, and jousting equipment in the world. The Hofjagd- und Rüstkammer (Court Hunting Chamber and Imperial Armoury) display items of the highest quality, as could be expected from the Habsburg family, who apart from ruling Austria, were also the Holy Roman Emperors for much of the 14th to 19th century. Imperial Armory Tickets include admission in the same building to the large Weltmuseum (Ethnology) and the Collection of Old Musical Instruments.
Knight’s Armor and Costumes in the Imperial Armory in Vienna
The Imperial Armory (Rüstkammer) in Vienna combines the arms and armor collections of the Austrian branch of the Habsburgers in a single collection of impressive quality and quantity. No other collection in the world is as complete or as well documented.
The House of Habsburg provided 21 Holy Roman Emperors, 4 Austrian Emperors, and 6 kings of Spain, in addition to ruling many smaller territories. In addition, the Habsburgers were related by marriage to more ruling families than any other in Europe — for the purposes of the Armory, this provided a steady stream of armor and harnesses from all eras and areas. Many were provided for special commemorative events and are therefore documented in incredible detail.
Noblesse oblige. The higher the status the higher the standards and nothing trumped imperial. The emperor and princes’ suits of armor were of magnificent technical and artistic quality. Whether a field harness, weaponry (sword, dagger, mace), jousting harness, or costume, the quality was exquisite. Similarly, a nobleman’s horse had to look the part.
Exhibition Rooms in the Hofjagd- und Rüstkammer
The main themes in the around a dozen rooms in the Imperial Armory in Vienna are:
- Armour in the Middle Ages
- The Maximilian Tournament
- Emperor Maximilian I
- The Dominance of the House of Habsburg in Europe
- Ancient Myths in Renaissance Armor
- Tournament Festivals of the Elite
- Admiration of the Orient
- Late Tournaments
- Harnesses of the Early Baroque
- Hunting in the Middle Ages
- Firearms for the Hunt
Even visitors heading through the museum to the Collection of Old Musical Instruments should at least peek into the Armor in the Middle Ages hall and the adjacent display of three horseback knights in jousting costume in the Maximilian Tournament hall (room 21).
Knight’s Armor and Weaponry in Vienna
The exhibition in the Rüstkammer starts with a large collection of medieval harnesses. At this stage, field armor was worn in battle and literally a matter of life and death to the knight.
It is possible to compare harnesses and helmets from the 12th to the 16th century from various parts of Europe — around 300 harnesses and nearly 100 helmets are on display.
Body armor increasingly lost importance from the early 16th century onwards and many later harnesses were for ceremonial purposes. These were often even more artistically decorated than the battle dress.
A significant part of the collection came from Archduke Ferdinand of Tirol (1529–1595) who used his extensive family connections in the European courts to purposely collect armor and weaponry of the famous. (The Aztec feather headdress on display one floor below in the Weltmuseum was also first mentioned in writing in the inventory of Ferdinand’s estate in Schloss Ambras.)
The collection is exceptionally well documented but unfortunately mostly in German only. The use of English in the museum or digital catalog is very limited. (Audioguides are available in several languages.)
Jousting Tournament Equipment
Many items in the museum were used or collected by Emperor Maximilian I (1459-1519) — he is often described as the last knight. He was a capable military leader and his reforms did much to end the importance of knights in battle.
However, Maximilian was passionate about armor — as equipment for battle and tournaments as well as fine art. Despite perpetual cashflow problems, he did much to better protect foot soldiers with better and cheaper armor. However, he is particularly remembered for his love of jousting.
Maximilian sponsored and encouraged jousting tournaments. In room 21, knights and horses are in full tournament costumes. These show the two sportive forms he popularized: Rennen and Stechen.
- Stechen (lit. stabbing), used very heavy harnesses with especially strong helmets as the aim was to hit the crest off the opponent’s head. Such Stechzeug equipment could easily weigh 50 kg, which contributed to the later impression that knights in armor were clumsy or had limited mobility.
- Rennen (lit. running) used lighter (and cheaper) armor. Here the aim was to hit the shield of the opponent. Rennen used sharp lances and was considered more dangerous than Stechen. The Rennzeug on display belonged to Maximilian I.
Further tournament and jousting equipment are on display in other rooms of the museum but never as colorful as in room 21.
Hofjagd- und Rüstkammer Visitors’ Information
Imperial Armory Opening Hours
The Imperial Armory (Hofjagd- und Rüstkammer) and the Weltmuseum (Ethnology) are open daily except Wednesday from 10:00 to 18:00, closing at 21:00 on Tuesdays. The museum is closed on Wednesdays.
As with any decent museum in Vienna, a pleasant café-bistro is available for coffee and cake or a light lunch. The Cook Café & Bistro is in the pillared courtyard in the center of the museum and accessible without having to pay admission.
Tickets for the Imperial Armory in Vienna
The Ticket Neue Hofburg gives admission to all three museums in this wing of the Hofburg: the Weltmuseum Wien (Ethnology), the Hofjagd- und Rüstkammer (Hunting and Armory), and the Sammlung Alter Musikinstrumente (Collection of Old Musical Instruments). Separate tickets for the three museums are not sold.
A further option is the House of Habsburg Tour (€23), which adds a couple of palace rooms in the Neue Hofburg with an exhibition on the rise and falls of the House of Habsburg. This ticket also includes an audio guide to all the museums, which is useful, as many items are only described in German. (Weltmuseum labels are mostly bilingual.)
Tickets are valid for the calendar day and time-slot reservations are usually not available (or needed), except for occasional major temporary exhibitions.
Transportation to the Imperial Armory in Vienna
The Weltmuseum Wien (World Museum Vienna), the Hofjagd- und Rüstkammer (Hunting and Armory), and the Sammlung Alter Musikinstrumente (Collection of Old Musical Instruments) are in the Neue Hofburg wing of the imperial palace with the entrance from Heldenplatz. However, for transportation purposes, it is easier to remember it is across the Ring road from the Kunst Historisches Museum. The closest tram stop is Burgring.