Archduchess Maria Anna or Marianna of Austria was born on 6 October 1738 at the Hofburg Palace as the eldest surviving daughter of Empress Maria Theresa and Francis of Lorraine. As the eldest surviving child, she was heiress presumptive until the birth of her younger brother Joseph.
She received an education but not much was expected of her, and her mother never thought to prepare her daughters better than she herself had been prepared. Maria Anna suffered from bad health and nearly died when she contracted pneumonia in 1757. Her lungs were permanently damaged, and she also suffered from a curvature of the spine.
She was one of her mother’s least favourite daughters and developed a close relationship with her father. She became interested in religious life when she visited a small monastery in 1765 on her way to the wedding of her brother Leopold. Her father’s death that same year was a blow to her. Because of her physical disabilities, it was unlikely that she would ever marry. In 1766, she was made abbess of the Imperial and Royal Convert for Noble Ladies in Prague. Not much later, she returned to the first monastery she first visited and became its abbess. A palace was built for her nearby.
Maria Anna began to build her mineral and insect collection and wrote a book on her mother’s politics. She was even an avid painter and artist. She was made an honorary member of the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna in 1767. While at the monastery she became interested in archaeology and personally donated 30,000 florins for excavations. She even took part in the excavations.