It’s not the paintings of the hypertrichotic Gonzales family with faces covered in hair, nor the gruesome drinking chair that turns a tipple into a nightmare of torture heavier than a hangover. It’s not even the portrait of Dracula, one of the few known likenesses of Vlad III the Impaler known to exist, that draws me back time and again. No, past the mechanical toys and samurai uniform, my favourite item on display in Ambras Castle’s delightfully bizarre Chamber Of Curiosities is… Death. Uniden Digital Camera Well, it’s not a big Death, just a Tödlein. Little Death at Ambras Castle is represented by a small figurine, maybe 25-30 centimetres in height, carved with love from wood by Hans Leinberger in the early 1500s. Death has lived for well on 500 years in the ersatz bones of an elegant gentleman carrying what look to be a bow and arrows, casually leaning in contemplation of his next target. My sight at first love was Death against the evocative blood-red background of an inner-wall display case; the last time I saw Herr Leinberger’s creation, though, he was standing alone in a transparent glass sarcophagus, suitably ethereal amid the formidable objects sharing the space. Don’t get me wrong. I am very impressed by the many exquisite objets on displet in the fascinating Chamber of Curiosities. An enamel bowl from the Orient, a gorgeous inkstand in silver with coral adornment, a golden table clock, rhinoceros horn goblets. They are all beautiful examples of extraordinary artistry and workmanship, yet somehow it is Tödlein, also a masterpiece of its genre, that evokes the most emotional reaction. Call me sentimental.

That Archduke Ferdinand II, he was quite a guy. Not only did he lead the trend among avant-garde royals of the 16th century in acquiring a collection of rarities and oddities from a world far more mysterious in his time than in our own, but he somehow managed to keep it intact more than four hundred years after his own death. Maybe that little skeleton exuding confidence in his stance is the Archduke himself taking pleasure in seeing his collection still presented in situ in the only accumulation of its kind that remains in existence for us iPad-toting, Glass-wearing smartphone slaves to witness in the 21st century.

Have a look for yourself… if you dare look Death in the face…

Homepage of Ambras Castle