The Museum of Military History – Military History Institute in Vienna is the leading museum of the Austrian Armed Forces. It documents the history of Austrian military affairs through a wide range of exhibits comprising, above all, weapons, armours, tanks, aeroplanes, uniforms, flags, paintings, medals and badges of honour, photographs, battleship models, and documents. Although the museum is owned by the Federal Government, it is not affiliated to the Federal museums but is organised as a subordinate agency reporting directly to the Ministry of Defence and Sports.
The museum building (Arsenal object number 18) is the centrepiece of Vienna's Arsenal, a huge military complex previously consisting of a total of 72 buildings erected in the wake of the 1848/49 revolution. The Arsenal was the largest building project of the young Kaiser Franz Joseph I in his first years of reign, and served to consolidate his neoabsolutist position of power, as opposed to the revolutionary Vienna of 1848. It was Danish architect Theophil Hansen who designed what was then referred to as the weapons museum. The museum was completed on 8 May 1856, just six years after the beginning of construction (15 April 1850), making it the oldest museum building – planned and executed as such – in Austria. At the time of its construction, the Arsenal was located outside the outer ring of fortifications; in 1850, however, the area was incorporated into Vienna along with the original Favoriten (4th District; as of 1874, 10th District; since 1938, the Arsenal forms part of Vienna's 3rd District). Along the south-west side of the Arsenal ran the Vienna-Raab railway, for which the main Vienna station, the Wiener Bahnhof had been opened in 1848.
Hansen's plan provided for a 235-meter long building with protruding transverse sections and corner towers, and a tower-like central segment with a square shape, crowned with a dome, with a total height of 43 meters. Just as many other historicist buildings borrowed models from historic architecture, Theophil Hansen chose the Venetian Arsenal, built after 1104, as his prototype. He borrowed Byzantine style elements, adding some Gothic elements in the process. What really stands out is the characteristic brickwork structure. The brickwork, consisting of two-tone bricks, is decorated with terracotta ornaments and wrought iron clasps, the segmentation of the façade is set off in natural stone, and the median risalit is rich with decorative elements such as the three round windows in front of the side wings. The richly adorned attic section is borne by a magnificent lombard band reminiscent of Florentine palazzi. The dovetail crenellation is interrupted by turrets at the axes of the side wings and at the corners of the central part of the building, with terracotta trophy sculptures positioned inside their alcoves. Allegoric representations of military virtues made of sandstone are featured on and in front of the facade, created by Hans Gasser, one of the most influential sculptors of his time. Just below the round windows, the female figures (from left to right) represent strength, vigilance, piety, and wisdom; next to the three openings leading to the lobby are four male figures, which stand for bravery, loyalty to the flag, self-sacrifice, and military intelligence.
The interior of the Museum of Military History is witness to the intention of Emperor Franz Joseph to create not just a building to house the imperial arms collections, but above all to establish a magnificent hall of fame and a memorial for the Imperial Army. The Feldherrenhalle, for instance, exhibits 56 full-figure statues of "Austria's most famous warlords and field commanders worthy of eternal emulation“, as they are described in the Imperial resolution of 28 February 1863. All statutes are made of Carrara marble and stand equally tall at exactly 186 centimetres. The names and biographical data of those depicted can be found on plates located above each statue, while the base of each statue bears one of the 32 names of the artists who created them, the date it was installed, and the name of the patron who paid for the statue. Half of the costs were borne by Emperor Franz Joseph himself, and the rest was financed by private sponsors who were often descendants of the respective field commanders depicted. The chronological period covered by these statues ranges from the Margrave Leopold I of Babenberg to the Habsburg Archduke Charles.
The staircase too, was lavishly decorated. An additional four statues of field commanders are exhibited in the mezzanine, thus bringing the total to the aforementioned 60, though contrary to the ones in the Feldherrenhalle, these stand in considerably more elevated positions in wall niches. These portray important personalities of the revolutionary year 1848, namely those military leaders who – at times very bloodily – quelled the revolutionary efforts in all parts of the Empire on behalf of the House of Habsburg: Julius von Haynau, Joseph Wenzel Radetzky, Alfred I, Prince of Windisch-Grätz, and Count Josip Jelačić of Bužim. Carl Rahl was assigned with the pictorial decoration of the Staircase, a task he carried out together with his students Christian Griepenkerl and Eduard Bitterlich in 1864. The centre of the gold-ornamented ceiling features frescos with allegorical depictions of power and unity (centre), fame and honour (right), and cleverness and courage (left). The staircase is crowned by an allegorical marble sculpture group titled Austria, created by Johannes Benk in 1869.
Indisputably, the most representative section of the entire museum is the Ruhmeshalle (hall of fame) located in the first floor. A particular highlight of the Ruhmeshalle are the frescos by Karl von Blaas, portraying the most important military events (victories) in Austrian history since the times of the Babenberg dynasty. The four large wall arches show the victories of the Imperial Army, the battle of Nördlingen 1634, the war council at the battle of St. Gotthard 1664, the battle of Zenta 1697, and the relief of Turin 1706; the left adjacent hall contains depictions of events during the reign of Maria Theresia and Joseph II until the siege of Belgrade in 1789; the right adjacent hall contains depictions of the Napoleonic Wars stretching from the battle of Würzburg in 1796 to Tyrol's struggle for freedom in 1809 and the armistice negotiations of field Marshal Radetzky with King Vittorio Emanuele II of Sardinia following the battle of Novara in 1849. The true significance of the Ruhmeshalle, that of a memorial, however, only becomes discernible at the second glance: On the walls of the adjacent halls and in the Ruhmeshalle itself, one will find several marble plaques, bearing the names of over 500 officers (from colonels to generals of the Imperial Army, known as Imperial and Royal (k.u.k.) Army as of the beginning of the Thirty Years' War in 1618 until the end of World War I in 1918), indicating the place and date of their death.