When artist, art professor and sometime ambassador Gabriela von Habsburg is at home in the woods south of Munich near Lake Starnberg, one place she finds respite is with her sheep in their shed. Feeding her 16-strong flock is one of the first things she does in the morning.
Von Habsburg dons rubber boots then heads out into the fresh air to pour special sheep granola into a trough in the shed. Ewes, lambs and rams come running. “Look at your beautiful babies; you’re such a sweet mum!” she says in German to a ewe who, the day before, gave birth to two black lambs that are gingerly testing their spindly legs. Caring for the animals offers a grounding break at the beginning and end of each day.
The affable sculptor is in her early sixties and her artwork (abstract, geometric objects rendered in stainless steel) dots the yard between the shed and a white house that once belonged to her grandmother – and in which Von Habsburg raised her three children. This has been home since 1978, although Von Habsburg – the granddaughter of the last Austrian emperor on her father’s side and the daughter of a German princess on her mother’s – also has a city apartment, and a countryside vineyard in Georgia. In addition she has an art studio and workshop filled with metalworking machinery a few kilometres from here, closer to Munich.
The Georgian connection means travel and, sometimes, time away from her animals (she also has cats and once had peacocks). Von Habsburg is an art professor at the Free University of Tbilisi, which she often visits to work with students. This year she is also organising a major exhibition of her sculptures and work by four Georgian students, which will open at the Georgian National Museum on 4 May. From 2011 she maintained a residence in Berlin during her tenure as ambassador to Germany from Georgia; back then she commuted between Berlin and southern Germany, running parallel lives as an artist and politician.
Why Georgia? About 20 years ago she visited the country as an artist and was immediately smitten. “Georgia is where Europe begins – it’s one of the earliest countries to have adopted Christianity.” She says she feels European rather than of a specific nationality. When she was born in Luxembourg, and later during her childhood south of Munich, the exiled Von Habsburgs were not allowed to visit Austria until the 1970s. In the contemporary era, many members of her illustrious family have championed the pan-European cause as politicians.
This property reveals Von Habsburg’s roots; photos in the house show that the sheep shed has been standing for decades. The house’s oldest portion was built with funds that her grandmother obtained from selling a tiara she’d managed to escape with during the Second World War, so the family story goes. “Let me check the shed again,” she says later in the evening. “I want to make sure those lambs are bonding with their mother.”
1956 Born in Luxembourg
1978 –1982 Studies at Munich Academy of Arts
2010-2013 Georgian ambassador to Germany
2019 Stages sculpture exhibition celebrating 20 years in Georgia