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  • Writer's pictureRobin Yong

Sisi and Franz 塞西與弗蘭茲 シシィとフランツ

The Venice Carnevale is not all about masks...these are locals dressing up with historical costumes during this festive season. The costumes are those of Elisabeth (born Duchess Elisabeth Amalie Eugenie in Bavaria; 24 December 1837 – 10 September 1898), nicknamed Sisi (also spelled Sissi or Sissy) and Franz. She is known as one of the most beautiful and famous women of 19th century Europe. She became Empress of Austria and Queen of Hungary from her marriage to Emperor Franz Joseph I on 24 April 1854 until her assassination in 1898.

They recount a complicated betrothal. Franz Joseph was originally promised to Sisi’s older sister, Helene. But, when the two families spent a weekend together, it was the younger Bavarian princess who caught the emperor’s eye instead. After a few stolen moments, they announce their engagement, much to Helene’s dismay.

In 1853, Archduchess Sophie, the domineering mother of 23-year-old Emperor Franz Joseph, preferring to have a niece as a daughter-in-law rather than a stranger, arranged a marriage between her son and her sister Ludovika's eldest daughter, Helene ("Néné"). Although the couple had never met, Franz Joseph's obedience was taken for granted by the Archduchess, who was once described as "the only man in the Hofburg" for her authoritarian manner.

Duchess Ludovika and Helene were invited to journey to the resort of Bad Ischl, Upper Austria to receive his formal proposal of marriage. The then fifteen-year-old Sisi accompanied her mother and sister, and they traveled from Munich in several coaches. They arrived late as the Duchess, prone to migraines, had to interrupt the journey; the coach with their gala dresses never did arrive. On their way to Bad Ischl, they visited Leopoldskron Palace where the Queen Dowager of Bavaria was in mourning for her brother Georg so they were dressed in black and unable to change to more suitable clothing before meeting the young Emperor. While black did not suit eighteen-year-old Helene's dark coloring, by contrast, it made her younger sister's blonder looks more striking.

Helene was a pious, quiet young woman, and while she and Franz Joseph felt ill at ease in each other's company, he was instantly infatuated with her younger sister. He did not propose to Helene, but instead, he defied his mother and informed her that if he could not have Elisabeth, he would not marry at all. Five days later, their betrothal was officially announced. The couple were married eight months later in Vienna, at the Augustinerkirche, on 24 April 1854.

For this year's Venice Carnevale, more of my photo subjects are local Italians with non-masked costumes.

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