| Home Page | Austrian Ball | Events | Photo Gallery | Links | Archives |

The Austrian Nationality Room
at the
Cathedral of Learning, University of Pittsburgh, PA
Updated: 20 October 2006

Cathedral of Learning, University of Pittsburgh

The Commons Room, Cathedral of Learning

Austrian Nationality Room, 3rd Floor, Cathedral of Learning

Other Austrian Room Links:
~ Description of the Austrian Room at the University of Pittsburgh's Nationality Rooms web site

~ Burgenländische Gemeinschaft article and photo of the Burgenländische Krippe in Amerika located in the Austrian Nationality Room

~ The People Who Created the Austrian Nationality Room

Back to top of page

History of the Austrian Nationality Room
(The following is excerpted from the Austrian Nationality Room dedication booklet dated June 9, 1996)

The Austrian Nationality Room reflects the sumptuous refinement of the Baroque Period. It focuses on the 18th century benevolent rule of Empress Maria Theresa whose innovative governance and exuberant reforms stimulated an unprecedented flowering of culture. The patrician life of the aristocracy, surrounded by beauty and music, influenced European standards of lifestyle, fashion, and the arts. The nobility brought talented individuals to live on their estates as artists and musicians in residence. The finest painters were commissioned to create portraits and decorative murals in palatial rooms of the castles. Composers often served for decades as Kapellmeister (music director) for titled families.

The Austrian Nationality Room is based on elements from the Haydnsaal (Haydn Hall) in Schloss Esterhazy--a castle in the small town of Eisenstadt, the provincial capital of Burgenland, near Vienna.

Originally built in 1371 by the Hungarian counts Kanizsai, the Gothic fortress was ceded to the Habsburgs in 1495. In 1648, Prince Ladislaus Esterhazy purchased the castle from Ferdinand II. Upon his death, his brother Prince Paul Anton Esterhazy transformed the medieval fortress into a more spacious baroque castle, which now bears the name Schloss Esterhazy.

In 1761, Prince Nicholaus Esterhazy hired Joseph Haydn (1732-1809), a struggling violinist and music teacher, as second conductor. In 1767, he became Kapellmeister with his own orchestra, which enabled him to develop his genius as a composer of chamber and church music. His 107 symphonies caused him to be known as "the father of the symphony." Haydn's concerts and operas, performed in the spacious Haydnsaal, often included the royal family among their appreciative audiences.

Ceiling Murals
The Austrian room's ceiling murals are drawn directly from those decorating the Haydnsaal's ceiling. The originals are the work of Carpofora Tencalla (1632-1685), an Italian artist brought north by the Habsburg emperor and the Austrian nobility to decorate churches, castles, and chapels throughout Austria. In the 1660s Tencalla was commissioned by Prince Esterhazy to decorate the ceiling of Schloss Esterhazy's concert hall. The murals were inspired by the writings of the classical Roman writer Lucius Apuleius, best known for his prose romance Metamorphoses, the only Latin novel to survive in its entirety.

The panel near the window depicts Helios (Apollo), God of the Day (Sun), and brother of Selene (Goddess of the Night), riding his chariot across the sky, bringing light. Below, the large central figure in armor represents Ares (Mars), the God of War, Fertility, and Tumult. Surrounding Ares are Pan, goddesses, and Saturn, devouring his young.

The center panel shows the marriage of Amor (Cupid) and Psyche surrounded by gods and goddesses, including Poseidon (Neptune) with his trident; Hermes (Mercury), messenger of the gods, with the caduceus (staff with winged serpent); and Vulcan with his hammer.

At the entrance, Selene, Goddess of the Night, rides a chariot drawn by two horses across the sky bringing darkness with her. Below are the infant Bacchus; Demeter (Ceres), Goddess of the Earth, holding a sheaf of grain; and Diana, the huntress, with her bow and dogs.

Celeste Parrendo, a Pittsburgh artist known for her work in the Benedum Center, Fifth Avenue Place, and with the Pittsburgh Opera and Civic Light Opera, traveled to Eisenstadt as a guest of the Austrian Nationality Room Committee to study, photograph, and obtain documentation on the paintings before undertakintg her challenging task of creating reduced replicas of the Haydnsaal murals. Miss Parrendo also executed the traditional baroque floral embellishments on the wall panels.

Illuminating the room are two Lobmeyr crystal chandeliers similar to those in Vienna's Schoenbrunn Palace, the favorite residence of Empress Maria Theresa. These fixtures were designed during the Baroque period especially for the Empress. The frames are metal, finished in gold leaf, and covered in glass. They are fitted with handcut and polished Czechoslovak crystal prisms. Illumination is achieved by electric candles.

Set on the left wall, a map of the Austrian Empire during the reign of Charles VI from 1711 to 1740 depicts boundaries that encompass not only Austria, Styria, Carinthia, and Carniola (Slovenia), but also Belgium, the Netherlands, Croatia, Hungary, Banat, Transylvania, Moravia, Silesia, Bohemia, and large areas of Italy, Serbia, and Romania.

Composer Inscription
On the right wall, an inscription commemorates composers born within the Austrian domain. The earliest birthdate is 1170, with the composers grouped under the coat-of-arms of the province in which they were born.

The painted walls, based on those in the Haydnsaal, bear floral designs and trim of 23-carat gold leaf. Specially fabricated knives were created by Giffin Interiors to reproduce the room's adaptation of the original trim molding. Royal red damask upholstery adds interest to the panels.

Drawing from decorative elements in many Austrian castles, the architect had used mirrors to create a feeling of spaciousness. On the window wall, a mirrored cabinet opens to reveal a chalkboard in triptych form.

The royal red damask draperies with a floral motif reflect the 18th century with swag and jabot valances. Created by Chester Lemaistre Inc., in Pittsburgh, they match the upholstered walls and chairs and are sumptuous reminders of the Baroque era.

The seminar table and chair design is based on the Imperial dining room furniture in Vienna's Hofburg. Handcrafted of solid maple aged for 50 years, the furniture bears seven coats of lacquer, overlaid with a patina that has been gilded. The chairseats and backs are upholstered in royal red damask. Firma Friedrich Otto Schmidt, a venerable Viennese firm, created the furniture using traditional methods that render it almost indistinguishable from that in the Hofburg.

Display Cases - Items exhibited include:
The Venus of Willendorf
The oldest period of Austrian culture is reflected in a replica of the Venus of Willendorf, a Stone Age sculpture that dates from 28,000-22,000 B.C. This carving, along with paleolithic weapons and tools, was unearthed in 1908 by railroad workers in a small village only four miles from Vienna. Fashioned of limestone, the nude female figure with intricately coiffed hair, large breasts, and protruding abdomen is a ritual image of a hunter society whose quarry was big horn sheep, mammoth, stag, bison, bear, fox, and wolf. She is a symbol of fertility and was probably worshipped as an ancestor who protected the tribe.

The Hallstatt Bull
The Hallstatt civilization developed during the Early Iron Age (750-400 B.C.) around Lake Hallstatt in Upper Austria. Vast salt and ore deposits contributed to the society's wealth and status. Elaborate burial grounds contained urns and jewelry. Found in Moravia, this bull, with its elegant lines and stylized, head-up position, rivals ancient Scythian sculpture.

The Hallstatt Clasp
Among the findings in some 3,000 Iron Age graves were items of adornment. The bronze clasp discovered in Hallstatt bears a delicately etched design and served to fasten garments.

Joseph Haydn's "DAS KAISERLIED"
On February 7, 1797, Haydn, responding to a request for a composition to honor Emperor Francis I, presented a simple piano melody--"The Emperor's Song"--at the Vienna Court (Burg) Theater. It was a birthday surprise for the Emperor.

Subsequently, Haydn created the "Emperor Quartet" with variations. These were played for the first time on September 28, 1797, as part of a concert given in honor of the visiting Viceroy of Hungary at the Esterhazy Castle in Eisenstadt. A first print of the score for "Das Kaiserlied" is displayed.

The Ostarrichi Document
The year 996 A.D. brought the first documented mention of Ostarrichi, Old High German for Oesterreich.

After the Battle of Lechfeld in 995, the Danube basin was in need of reconstruction. Emperor Otto III donated the land south of the Danube and east of the Enns River to Bishop Gottshalk of Freising. This land was called by the native Germanic people Ostarrichi. The town of Niuvanhova, today's Neuhofen, was also part of the grant. The Ostarrichi Document, written in Latin, details the rights bestowed upon the new owners and their descendants. The original is kept in the Archives of Bavaria in Munich. It is considered by historians to be the "birth certificate" of Austria.

The rose pattern of the wood parquet floor originated in Austria where it graces numerous castles. Quartered oak laid in a sunburst design is bordered by a walnut strip, producing a three-dimensional effect.

The room's entrance is surmounted by the quotation from Maximilian I that symbolizes the propensity of the Habsburgs to expand their empire through well-arranged marriages. "Let others wage war; let you, fortunate Austria, marry!" (Bella gerant alii; tu, felix Austria, nube!)

Corridor Stone
Carved in stone above the corridor entrance, the double-headed Habsburg eagle proclaims that this room represents the vast and powerful Austrian Empire. Holding a sword and crown in its talons, the crowned eagle gazes East and West to the far reaches of the realm.

* * * * * *
Because the history of the Austrian Nationality Room is so intertwined with the history of the Austrian American Cultural Society,
please also refer to the History of AACS.

Back to top of page

History of the Society
(The following is excerpted from the Austrian Nationality Room dedication booklet dated June 9, 1996)

The earliest recorded interest in creating an Austrian Nationality Room was expressed by Walter Sobotka, a professor at the University of Pittsburgh, who had practiced architecture in Austria. Though he met with Austrian President Dr. Karl Renner in 1950 to enlist support, the plan never moved forward. The sketch on his 1952 Christmas card depicts a Baroque room with ceiling murals, a crystal chandelier, and a Kachelofen.

In April 1979, the Vienna Konzastante Schrammel Quartet, seeking a concert sponsor in Pittsburgh, contacted the Nationality Rooms Program at the University of Pittsburgh. Dr. Ivo Frithjof Fischer, a visiting medical professor from Bregenz, and several friends, arranged for the concert to be held in Carnegie Music Hall as a benefit for the Austrian Nationality Room. Dr. Fischer soon returned to Austria but continued to participate in many aspects of room development until the room was completed.

In May 1980, first- and second-generation Austrians met in Stephen Foster Memorial Hall to discuss the commitment necessary to produce a Nationality Room. Bylaws, dues, and the election of officers signaled the birth of the Austrian American Cultural Society, dedicated to the promotion of Austrian culture and the creation of an Austrian Room. Among elected officers over the years were Chairs Rainer Jezek, Edward Kepes, and Joseph E. Pandl; Treasurer and Co-Chair Dolores Stehr; Co-Chair Dr. Joseph Novak; Recording Secretary and President Arliss Sturges; and Membership Chair Betty McDermott.

During the next seven years, the society sponsored concerts featuring soloists from the Pittsburgh Opera and brought choral groups from Austria and Slovenia to perform. Bake sales with tempting pastries prepared by a local Austrian baker swelled the building fund. At each Christmas celebration, the appearance of Saint Nikolaus in bishop's robes accompanied by a fierce, dark Krampus carrying a stick and coal as he rattled chains, warned mischievous children to mend their ways.

The highlight of spring 1987 was the annual Austrian Ball, held in the Grand Ballroom of the Westin William Penn Hotel. A Grand March, two orchestras, a waltz contest, and a gourmet menu attracted some 350 guests from the tri-state area and beyond. Under the able chairmanship of Betty McDermott, this delightful event became a must on social calendars every year, generating significant proceeds and contributions to the building fund. Through small in number, the Austrians became a part of Pittsburgh's ethnic mosaic. At the University of Pittsburgh, they welcomed many visitors, including Austria's former Chancellor Bruno Kreisky, the Ambassadors to the United States from Austria, Friedrich Hoess and Helmut Tuerk; as well as numerous officials from the Austrian Consulates in New York and Washington.

In 1987, University of Pittsburgh's Chancellor Wesley W. Posvar issued a formal invitation to the Austrian American Cultural Society to build an Austrian Room in the Cathedral of Learning. The same year, the society presented to the University of Pittsburgh a Deed of Trust essential to formalize their membership in the Nationality Council and enable them to reserve a classroom on the third floor of the Cathedral of Learning.

In 1987, Joseph E. Pandl was selected to chair the Austrian Nationality Room Committee. Mr. Pandl's father had emigrated from Heiligenkreuz, Burgenland, in 1921, after having served in the Kaiser's Army. He became maître d'hôtel in Pittsburgh's exclusive Duquesne Club. Through his friendship with community leaders, particularly the Heinz and Mellon families, he became an unofficial purveyor of Austrian culture, advising on the Baroque decorations of Heinz Hall and interpreting his heritage to others.

Chair Joseph Pandl, ably assisted by Co-Chairs Dr. Joseph Novak and Dolores Stehr, created a network of supporters among native Austrians, Austrian-Americans, Austrian businessmen and corporations, as well as local foundations. Extending the effort to the Austrian Embassy in Washington and individuals in Vienna, they generated contributions, gifts in kind, and services essential to completing the room.

To find a suitable architect to develop the Baroque plan, the Room Committee placed an invitation in Viennese architectural journals and Chamber of Commerce publications. In 1988, respected architect Franz Gerhard Schnögass responded and volunteered his services. In Pittsburgh, Günther J. Kaier, a native of Villach, Carinthia, offered to serve as Architect of Record. Years of trans-Atlantic crossings and negotiations by architects, committee members, and University of Pittsburgh staff transformed the plan into a vibrant Baroque design that successfully passed the University of Pittsburgh's stringent review procedures.

Members of the Austrian American Cultural Society and the Austrian Nationality Room Committee faced daunting challenges. Their tasks ranged from documenting dates and searching for original maps of the Austrian Empire to acquiring gifts such as the Lobmeyr crystal chandelier and locating appropriate artifacts to grace the room.

Their commitment and dedication over 17 years have resulted in the creation of the Austrian Nationality Room--an enduring symbol that will speak to future generations of students, faculty, and visitors about the Austrian heritage they treasure.

* * * * * *
Back to top of page

Acknowledgments and Credits:
Photos: Our thanks to Ms. E. Maxine Bruhns, Director of the Nationality Rooms and Intercultural Exchange Programs and to the University of Pittsburgh for permission to use the photos displayed on this page.

History of the Austrian Nationality Room
and The People Who Created the Austrian Nationality Room: Excerpted from the Austrian Nationality Classroom dedication booklet (June 9, 1996) compiled and edited by E. Maxine Bruhns, Joseph Novak M.D., Joseph E. Pandl, and Dolores Stehr.