Outbreak of the war
End of the war

Presentation of the imperial household: pictorial icons

Cinematographic reporting on the duties of the members of the court quickly developed into a specialization by domestic and foreign companies. Weeks before an event the production companies began preparing and advertising what were billed as ‘sensational’ pictures.

Emperor Franz Joseph I was at the centre of this idealized representation. For generations he was the symbol of the Austrian Monarchy. At the start of the twentieth century, the ‘old man in Schönbrunn’, who sought to uphold the ‘honour and dignity’ of the empire, even taking up arms to do so, represented the continuity but at the same time the weakness of the dynasty and the monarchical ruling principle. At receptions, openings and festivities the cameramen captured the Emperor as an icon, one that is still valid to this day thanks to the recurrent images in historical documents and his representation in feature films. The monarchical pictorial canon has Emperor Franz Joseph I as the ever-present ‘imperial hunter’, nature-loving and surrounded by his ‘adoring subjects’. In 1930 a cinematic commemoration to him was created with the film Emperor Franz Joseph as Regent and Person.

Emperor Karl, the grand-nephew of Franz Joseph I, later heir to the throne and ultimately the last Emperor of Austria and King of Hungary, is also fixed in the visual memory thanks to recurrent exposure in the media. His marriage to the 19-year-old Princess Zita of Bourbon-Parma was filmed by the French Gaumont company and has also become an iconic historical document. Emperor Franz Joseph, archdukes and princesses, high nobility and members of the court all assembled for the marriage celebration. In some case the film is the only existing record of these dignitaries. Documentary film makers and TV stations would later single them out for reinsertion in a new cinematic context. These pictures are thus far more familiar than many other films of the Monarchy.

The documentaries made following the assassination of Crown Prince Franz Ferdinand and his wife Princess Sophie von Hohenburg have also become global pictorial icons. Crown Prince Franz Ferdinand sought a peaceful settlement of international tensions, including those in the Balkans. His support of a ‘trialistic’ reconstruction of the Danube region, the merger of all southern Slavs under the Habsburg sceptre, was at odds with the 1867 Compromise and Serbian ambitions. He and his wife were shot by Serbian assassins on 28 June 1914 in Sarajevo. As a reaction, Serbian minorities were attacked in Sarajevo and their businesses and houses damaged.

Translation: Nick Somers


Korte, Barbara/Paletschek, Sylvia/Hochbruck, Wolfgang (Hrsg.): Der Erste Weltkrieg in der populären Erinnerungskultur, Essen 2008

Leidinger, Hannes/Moritz, Verena/Moser, Karin: Österreich Box 1: 1896-1918. Das Ende der Donaumonarchie, Wien 2010

Contents related to this chapter


  • Aspect

    On the eve of war

    The last decade of the nineteenth century and the first of the twentieth were a time of modernisation, mechanisation and speed. In 1910, Vienna, capital of the Habsburg empire, had 2.1 million inhabitants and had grown to become an international metropolis. New technologies changed working life and leisure. Railways increased mobility, as did the bicycle, motor vehicle and aeroplane. How did this development manifest itself and what other trends emerged in the last years before the outbreak of the First World War?

  • Aspect

    The Habsburg empire

    Austria-Hungary had an extremely diverse state structure. At the start of the First World War it was a major power in decline. Social and political problems and the dominant nationality conflicts shook the empire to its foundations. At the same time, the Monarchy represented an enormous cultural region in which the Habsburg empire flourished in spite of the political stagnation.

Persons, Objects & Events

  • Object


    All Quiet on the Western Front was released in 1930. It was the film of Erich Maria Remarque’s novel of the same name about the experiences of a soldier during the First World War. Remarque’s book and the film adaptation are classic anti-war statements. Alongside the patriotic, glorified heroic epics and “authentic” documentation of service for the fatherland, this was just one way in which the First World War was portrayed in literature and films – a medium that had come into being only twenty years before the outbreak of war.

  • Person


    The wife of Karl I was regarded as the extremely energetic mastermind of the dynasty.

  • Person

    Karl I.

    The last Emperor acceded to the throne in 1916 and reigned until the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy in November 1918.

  • Person

    Franz Joseph

    Thanks to his long reign of 68 years, Franz Joseph was a determining figure of the Habsburg Empire in the last decades of its existence. In 1914, he signed the declaration of war on Serbia that triggered the First World War – a war that he would not live to see the end of.

  • Event

    Assassination in Sarajevo

    Assassination of the Austro-Hungarian heir to the throne Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie in the Bosnian capital.


  • Development

    The Habsburg myth – the dynasty before and after 1918

    The Habsburg-Lorraine dynasty formed the ideological basis for the Habsburg Monarchy, since the existence of the multi-ethnic state was primarily a product of the dynastic history of this ruling house.

    In the latter days of the Habsburg Monarchy, Emperor Franz Joseph personified the imperial idea, although towards the end of his sixty-eight-year reign he was reduced more and more to an abstract symbol, a kind of father figure. His death in November 1916 left a vacuum at the head of the dynasty, which his successor Karl could no longer fill.