The reconstruction of Kreuzenstein is inseparable from the person of Johann Nepomuk Graf Wilczek: when he took the decision in 1874 to rebuild the castle, Wilczek was not only a chamberlain at the court of Emperor Franz Joseph I, but also renowned as an outstanding polar explorer, a patron of the arts, an avid art collector and philanthropist and a high-profile personality of the Imperial Monarchy.
In addition to his varied interests, Wilczek had a great personal passion for collecting medieval and early modern art. Therefore, his original intention to renovate only the chapel of Kreuzenstein as a family tomb soon matured into the plan of an entire rebuild to serve as a worthy museum for Wilczek's most extensive historical art collection, which, toward the end of his life, contained more than 100,000 objects, including Austria's largest collection of weapons in private hands.
Over a construction period of three decades and based on the remains of the ruins, he created an impressive, monumental work of art on a historical basis, collaborating with architect Carl Kayser Gangolf, the court architect of Emperor Maximilian of Mexico, who was considered a leading specialist for the reconstruction of historical monuments, followed by architect Humbert v. Walcher Moltheim after Gangolf’s death in 1895.
For the reconstruction, a variety of valuable historical original components were used that Wilczek had located and bought on numerous research tours throughout Europe. Thus, Kreuzenstein presents itself today as a place with a multiple history: on the one hand as an imposing, romanticized construction of the late 19th century, on the other hand as the ideal of a "real" castle from the heyday of the Middle Ages.
As in past centuries, the history of the castle continued to be extremely eventful even after the completion of the reconstruction: a fire caused by lightning strike in April 1915 destroyed not only the archive and library wing of the castle, but also valuable parts of the art collection housed therein, including historical musical instruments, valuable manuscripts, an Ex Libris collection as well as numerous original etchings by artists such as Albrecht Dürer and Lucas Cranach. The structural damage of the devastating fire has now been largely repaired.
At the end of World War II in 1945, Kreuzenstein had to suffer further tragedies as the castle's hill was exactly in the line of fire of enemy troops during the battle of Vienna. About 250 artillery shells hit roofs and walls, the art collection suffered even more serious losses during the following looting. Shell hits are still visible in several parts of the wall as silent witnesses of destruction, but also as a testimony to the steadfastness of the magnificent castle which today presents itself largely repaired again and unshattered by time and history.