White Ballet on Four Hooves

Datum: 18.06.2015

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The historical roots of the Spanish Riding School in Vienna reach back to the 16th century. The original plans for the Stallburg – a jewel of Renaissance architecture which houses the stables of the Riding School today and is part of the complex of the imperial residence, the Hofburg Palace, in Vienna – date back to 1559.  However, they were reworked, time and again, because the Stallburg originally was intended to serve as a residence for Emperor Maximillian, but he preferred to live in the “old” Hofburg Palace proper. As a result, the noble white horses were blessed with their own palatial residence. Archduke Charles II established a horse breeding farm for the imperial court in Lipizza (in contemporary Slovenia near Trieste) in 1580, and he stocked it with Spanish horses and Arabian Berbers, which were renowned for being especially trainable, in order to breed them for his purposes. Although a substantial part of the new “riding school on the square near the court castle”– as it was called in a document from 1565 that is the first source reference to its establishment – was destroyed during the Turkish siege of Vienna in 1683, the Spanish Riding School may nonetheless celebrate its 450th birthday this year. Re-erected in flamboyant Baroque style by Joseph Emanuel Fischer von Erlach, the Spanish Riding School can look back on 450 years of tradition.

The origins of this exceptional school of dressage – the highest school of horse training – are military. Later, the aristocracy indulged in showing its precious horses not only in in order to impress their peers but also to impress the ladies. It takes years for horses to learn the high art of dressage. They begin training at the age of four and do not complete their training until they are ten. The white horses, which are born black and only whiten in the course of growing up, dance like a ballet ensemble. Studs might stay black (or dark brown), and this coloring is a sign of luck! The light an playful movement of the Lippizaner with their unique elegance has inspired Augarten porcelain. The sculptor Albin Döbrich had a strong affinity to the Lippizaner. He studied them and their riders intently and created excellent and exceptionally elaborate ensembles of figurines in 1926 and 1927, including the figures trotting, rearing on hind legs (courbette), training between “pillars” (travail aux piliers), and the cadenced trot of the piaffe. Between 1925 and 1937, the artist Karin Jarl-Sakellarios worked on the horsemen in porcelain. The artists of the Manufactory always have had a special attraction to the horses and – in addition to the figurines of the Spanish Riding School – the naturalistic figurines of the rearing Arabian stud or the Baroque horse are classics.