In the 17th and 18th centuries, sleigh rides were mostly a treat enjoyed by wealthy families. Following the example of the royal courts of Europe, these privileged groups had themselves transported through the winter landscape in magnificent conveyances. Appearance was every bit as important as the outing itself, because these sleighs were one thing above all: a symbol of status. The contraptions were ornamented with heraldic animals, scenic views of various locations or family insignia, and were a lavish and colourful tribute to their owners. Representing an alternative world to the established order, the mythological figures and animals are spectacular. The National Museum holds a unique collection of magnificent sleighs, and for the first time these vehicles will be on display in this format in the Landesmuseum’s Hall of Fame.
In the 17th and 18th centuries, owning an ornate sleigh was de rigueur for any person of decent social standing. This was how you showcased your wealth to the public. However, these apparatus were nothing like the ones we use today for fun in the snow.
For centuries, people have used status symbols to emphasise their special position in society. Nowadays, it might be fast sports cars, huge luxury yachts or delectable caviar aperitifs. In the past, it was precious jewels, palatial country homes or magnificent sleighs. In the 17th and 18th centuries, these winter conveyances weren’t just for fun – their main purpose was image and prestige.
Sleighing had been an established feature of life at the royal courts of Europe since the 16th century. The precisely choreographed rides demonstrated quite plainly to the populace who ruled the roost. And the more elaborately decorated and fancifully shaped the sleigh, the greater the impact. The prosperous middle classes copied the habits of courtly life, and started having extravagant sleighs made for themselves. These conveyances were decorated with family emblems, scenic views or fabulous mythical beasts. Competition among sleigh-owners to have the most spectacular specimen was fierce. No effort or expense was spared. And that applied not only to the manufacture of the vehicles, but also to their care and maintenance, because in order to impress, the sleighs had to be regularly repaired and repainted.
Towards the end of the 18th century, sleighing shifted more and more from the princely court to the town square. In addition to affluent middle-class families, students also started organising sleigh rides. The conveyances were also popular for the wild parades that were held during Fasnacht, the Shrovetide or carnival season. These spectacles often ended in a drinking spree or a bit of surreptitious hanky-panky; as a result, sleighing was periodically banned.
The Swiss National Museum has an amazing collection of magnificent sleighs. This is the first time it has been possible to display these luxurious vehicles in large numbers. A special focus is on the one-of-a-kind sleighs in the shape of animals and mythical beasts and the fascinating stories behind them, revealing all about the carefully orchestrated sleigh rides, the families who owned them and the designs displayed on these fantastic conveyances. The exhibition even features a photo station, where visitors can take a picture of themselves on an ornate sleigh and forward the digital image.
- Overall management Denise Tonella
- Project management and curatorship Noemi Albert, Heidi Amrein
- Scientific advisory Jürg Burlet
- Scenography Alex Harb
- Exhibition graphics Maria Rosa Jehle
- Advisory committee Beat Högger, Markus Leuthard, Sabrina Médioni, Denise Tonella
- Controlling of project Sabrina Médioni
- Cultural Services and Museum Education Lisa Engi
- Advertising graphic Moreno Tuttobene
- Technical management Mike Zaugg
- Exhibition construction Janine Auf der Maur, Bachir Ezzarari, Ladina Fait, Marc Hägeli, Mike Roder, David Schwitter
- Conservation management Peter Wyer
- Conservation and montage of objects Caroline Muschel, Tino Zagermann
- Loans Samira Tanner
- Logistics and montage of objects Christian Affentranger, David Blazquez, Reto Hegetschweiler, Markus Scherer, Simon d’Hollosy
- Photography Jörg Brandt
- Picture library Andrea Kunz, Fabian Müller
- IT / Web Alex Baur, Thomas Bucher, Ueli Heiniger, Pasquale Pollastro, Danilo Rüttimann, René Vogel
- Media stations 2av GmbH, Alex Baur, Alex Harb, Ueli Heiniger
- Marketing and Communication Andrej Abplanalp, Anna-Britta Maag, Sebastiano Mereu, Carole Neuenschwander, Alexander Rechsteiner
- Translations Bill Gilonis, Marco Marcacci, Laurence Neuffer, Aude Virey-Wallon
- Jürg Burlet
- Kutschenmuseum Oberrohrdorf
The Swiss National Museum would like to thank the Foundation Willy G. S. Hirzel four the generous support.