History

The Residence of the Court Banker

An impressive pilaster surrounded door leads you into Residence Wollzeile, in years gone by it served as carriage entrance to the early baroque townhouse in Wollzeile 13. Once inside, the area directly in front of you, opens out into a typically Viennese "Pawlatschenhof" – an inner courtyard with connecting galleries – an architectural feature, which even today evokes a passion for the style of the Baroque era. In 1712 the house was rebuilt and adapted for the Viennese banker Sebastian Cichini, indeed the history of this beautiful listed building that can be traced even further back to the Middle Ages.

With the layout of the generously proportioned rooms, the property served Cichini as his residence and a meeting place for his circle of prosperous fellow citizens and noblemen. Here they could dine and conduct their business together in convivial surroundings. The banker had acquired the house in 1709 and had it completely rebuilt. After completion of the work the responsible authorities declared that the house, constructed with four upper storeys, was an “appreciable (architectural) adornment to the city”. Cichini was even granted a 25 year exemption from the detested "Hofsquartierspflicht", the housing authorisation permit normally obtained through the court – a privilege that shows the real influence of the banker at that time.

Vienna had a thriving social scene in the late Baroque period; feasts, balls and theatre visits were common pastimes enjoyed by the aristocracy and the wealthier inhabitants of the city. The most important accounts from this period were mainly recorded by visitors from abroad, most notably by Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, a well known English aristocrat. In 1716 she resided in Vienna for several months and wrote about her impressions of the city in her letters back to London. In her stylish conversational tone she vividly chronicled her impressions of life in Vienna and in particular how Viennese high society conducted itself. She was fascinated by what she saw at society dinners. She commented that at dinner, one could be presented with a choice of up to 50 dishes accompanied by 18 different wines. Lady Montagu also made amusing comments about some of the fashion follies of distinguished Viennese ladies. She once acerbically commented in a letter to her sister that the requisite costume "was more monstrous and contrary to all common sense and reason than 'tis possible for you to imagine".

We will move on from the drawing room to the world of high finance. Sebastian Cichini played a significant role in Austrian finance in the early 1800's. During the Turkish wars and the war of the Spanish succession the state was chronically short of money and borrowed what it needed from private investors, amongst whom the most prominent was Samuel Oppenheimer. He was followed by Emanuel Oppenheimer who availed himself of Sebastian Cichini's financial services. Around 1705, as a result of this business relationship, the banking house of Cichini and Jäger was founded and, from that point on, became a principal creditor to the Hofkammer – the revenue authority of the Habsburg monarchy.

Sources:
Günther Buchinger, Paul Mitchell, Doris Schön: Baugeschichte des Ratsherrnhauses Wien I, Wollzeile 13. Wien 2010
Franz Endler: Wien im Barock, Wien 1979
Franz Mensi: Die Finanzen Österreichs von 1701-1740. Wien 1890