Fire and flame

Von • Mai 5th, 2010 • Thema: Interviews

A fireside chat with Professor Wolfgang Kippes

Professor Kippes, as one of the two managers of Schönbrunn Palace, you can of course be reassuringly described as „Lord of the Tiled Stoves“. Do you actually know how many of these show-pieces are housed in the palace?

WK: You will already be familiar with our exemplary project to present the entire layout of the palace and the surrounding area in a 3D visualisation which is accurate in every detail. With the help of this unique technology I am able to recognise virtually every sick tree in the park from my desk. As part of this project, the entire inventory is of course being not only recorded but also provided with comprehensive details. The origin, the condition, the material characteristics and the dates of repairs and restoration work are also being ascertained, along with links to literature, documentation and other information relevant to each item’s history. To return to your question: In the showrooms of the palace there are 16 tiled stoves on the ground floor and 24 on the upper floor. We keep 20 tiled stoves in storage – in reserve, so to speak. There are also 20 tiled stoves on show in the exhibition room of Vienna’s Hofburg Imperial Palace.

Are they originals or reproductions?

WK: I will have to give a bit of detail for this question, too: The tiled stoves are what are known as „change-over stoves“. Because Schönbrunn Palace was really intended to be a summer residence which was inhabited from the beginning of April to the end of October, the stoves only had to produce a low heat output. Then, when in the 19th century the royal household grew ever larger and the palace was also partly inhabited more and more in the winter, the tiled stoves frequently suffered heat damage, as they had of course never been designed as a full heating system. A few select companies were permitted to repair this damage as „purveyors to the court“. Some tiled stoves were therefore reconstructed several times according to the original designs. In answer to your question, I can therefore tell you that most of the stoves are from the second half of the 19th century, but were reconstructed according to the designs of the 18th century.

Is it possible to put a value on a tiled stove of this kind?

WK: No, not really. Such unique pieces must not only be treasured for their value as an „antiquity“, but they should also be seen in the context in which historical rooms such as these were first completely furnished, which from a historical viewpoint also tells us a lot about life „in the good old days“. Even today, however, it is possible of course to produce a reproduction of a show-piece of this sort, and you can expect production costs of approximately € 100,000, not including assembly and installation.

Is it true that the tiled stoves were all stoked from passages which ran behind the rooms? How would you imagine that to have been?

WK: There is indeed a servants‘ corridor behind the royal rooms, which was also used to load the tiled stoves with wood. The aim was to avoid disturbing the nobles with the task of stoking the fire and to prevent the living spaces from becoming dirty.

And one more quite personal question: do you have a tiled stove yourself?

WK: What a question! Of course I would not want to do without the cosiness and the feel-good factor of a tiled stove myself either, so I chose a small Austrian tiled stove for my apartment.

Professor Kippes, thank you very much for talking to me!

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