Opening times: daily except Monday io a.m. to 6 p.m.,
Picture Gallery and Egyptian and Near Eastern Collection, Thursday io a.m. to 9 p.m.
Guided tours on special topics: every Wednesday and Friday 10:15 a.m.; every Tuesday and Thursday 12:30 p.m. (“Mittags im KHM”); every Thursday 6:30 p.m. (“Alte Meister”)
Phone: +43/1/525 24-0
In Thomas Bernhard’s novel Alte Meister (“Old Masters”), the music philosopher Reger is heard to grumble at length about the Kunsthistorisches Museum and the Habsburgs, to whom the Museum owes its enormous collections, because the Museum “doesn’t even have a Goya, not even an El Greco.” The Museum gets along just fine without an El Greco, who is not considered to have been among the top echelon of painters, but not to have a Goya is “downright fatal” for a museum like the Kunsthistorisches. Things are, of course, not as bad as Bernhard, a master of exaggeration, would have one believe. The KHM has a wonderful Vermeer (“Allegory of Painting”), the world’s largest collection of works by Pieter Bruegel the Elder as well as countless other masterpieces, including works by Jan van Eyck, Hieronymus Bosch, Albrecht Dürer, Titian, Tintoretto, Veronese, Parmigianino, Giuseppe Arcimboldo, Peter Paul Rubens and Diego Rodriguez de Silva y Velazquez. In addition, the Kunsthistorisches Museum, which was dedicated by Emperor Francis Joseph to “the monuments of art and antiquity,” consists of far more than just its Picture Gallery. It also has the Collection of Sculpture and Decorative Arts, Collection of Greek and Roman Antiquities, Egyptian and Near Eastern Collection and a Coin Cabinet that
With 700,000 objects (coins, paper money, medals and decorations) is one of the most important in the world. Because of lack of space in the main building, the >- Hof- jagd- und Rüstkammer (Collection of Arms and Armour) as well as the ► Sammlung alter Musikinstrumente (Collection of Ancient Musical Instruments) had to be moved. Together with the >- Ephesus Museum (part of the Collection of Greek and Roman Antiquities) and the > Museum the Corps de Logis.
History: For centuries the imperial collections were scattered across various parts of the Hofburg and the Belvedere Palace, where the Picture Gallery was opened to the public in 1781. Plans to construct new buildings to house the collections date from the early 19th century. But the project did not become concrete until the city wall was demolished on the orders of Emperor Francis Joseph (1857) and the new Ringstrasse was laid out. In i86z the architect Ludwig Forster proposed building two Court Museums on the former glacis between the Hofburg and the Imperial Stables: the Kunsthistorisches and the > Naturhistorisches Museum. In 1864 Francis Joseph gave his approval, and in 1866 four architects – Heinrich von Ferstel, Theophil von Hansen, Moritz Ritter von Lohr and Carl von Hasenauer – were invited to submit plans for two buildings that were to be mirror images of each other.
The jury, however, came to the conclusion that none of the four submitted designs was suitable. Thus they invited the German architect Gottfried Semper to come to Vienna to evaluate the plans. He criticized not only the plans themselves but also the competition’s frame of reference and called for a comprehensive new concept that was to include the idea of a Kaiserforum (Imperial Forum). The Emperor commissioned him to develop a concept based on one of the existing plans. Semper chose Hasenauer’s design, but made some fundamental changes that caused great tension between the two architects. In 1870 Francis Joseph approved the plan for the Kaiserforum, and ground was broken in the autumn of 1871.
In 1880 the two buildings were finished, but the magnificent interior design, which Hasenauer undertook alone, was not yet complete. The Naturhistorisches Museum opened in 1889; the Kunsthistorisches Museum followed two years later.
All four façades of the Kunsthistorisches Museum are decorated with numerous figures. They depict allegories as well as historical personages and artists. The icono- logical program was designed by Semper and illustrates the conditions governing the creation of a work of art: material aspects dominate the ground floor, artistic ones the main floor, and both are surmounted on the attic floor and along the balustrade by the individual as the crowning glory, the statues depicting famous artists.
The program is in chronological order, leading from classical antiquity (Babenbergerstrasse) to the Middle Ages (the side facing the MuseumsQuartier) to the Renaissance (Maria Theresa Square) to the Modern Age (Ring). The lantern in the cupola is crowned with a statue by Johann Benk of Pallas Athena as the protectress of the arts and sciences.
Tour: The view from the Entrance Hall through the circular opening in the Cupola Hall above it is breathtaking.
Before we climb the Main Staircase to the Picture Gallery, we turn right and enter the Egyptian and Near Eastern Collection on the mezzanine floor. The first two large Rooms (I and V) demonstrate the idea of an historical Gesamtkunstwerk (“total work of art”) in an impressive manner. The painted ceilings are supported by three original papyrus columns of granite; the walls are decorated with scenic pictures and hieroglyphic inscriptions. Even the doorways are in Egyptian style.
The parts of the collection on display are organized into various subdivisions: the focus is on the Egyptian cult of the dead and religion as well as on the plastic arts, especially sculpture. The museum’s rich holdings are based on a major acquisition in 182.1 as well as the Miramar Collection of Archduke Ferdinand Max (who as Emperor Maximilian of Mexico was executed there in 1867). The important collection of monuments from the Old Kingdom is the result of Austrian excavations between 1912 and 1929 in the cemetery of Giza. Extremely interesting are the Tomb Chapel of Ka-ni- nisut and the False Door of Iha, which were found in the cemetery to the west of the Cheops Pyramid in Giza. In a small display case you’ll find the mascot of the Kunsthistorisches Museum, a 20-centimeter (8-inch) long hippopotamus of blue faience (placed in a tomb around 2000 BC). Painted on the hippo’s body are signs of its habitat (papyrus, lotus, a bird) to indicate that it is wallowing in a swampy landscape.
The Collection of Greek and Roman Antiquities is displayed in adjoining rooms to the south. The holdings range from Cypriot Bronze Age pottery from the 3 rd millennium BC to Slavic finds from around 1000 AD. The architecture of Room XI is copied from the Roman imperial age. The imitative relief frieze with the legends of the gods is by August Eisenmenger. The collection, which will reopen in the autumn of 2004 after four years of renovation, is internationally renowned for its spectacular gems and cameos (Ptolemaic Cameo, Eagle Cameo, Gemma Augustea) as well as its finds from the time of the Great Migration (Tomb of the Princess of Untersiebenbrunn) and the Middle Ages (Hoard of Gold from Nagyszentmiklos). Among the newly exhibited items are reliefs from the Heroon of Trysa, a tomb in ancient Lycia (today in southwestern Turkey), which is one of the most important objects in the collection of ancient sculpture. One gallery explains the development of the Roman portrait from the Ist century BC to painted mummy portraits. The smaller rooms have a thematic focus (Cyprus, Etruria, lower Italy as well as Austria Romana). The larger-than-life bronze statue of the Youth from the Magdalensberg has proved a disappointment in one respect: until the 1980s it was considered to be an original from the Ist century AD. But it is “only” a copy made after a farmer found the original while plowing in 1502. The genuine statue disappeared and was taken to Spain under mysterious circumstances.
The eastern wing, which originally housed the Münzkabinett (Coin Cabinet, now in three specially adapted and spacious rooms on the third floor) and the Collections of Arms and Armour and of Ancient Musical Instruments, is now home to the Collection of Sculpture and Decorative Arts, which includes some 800 tapestries. The high quality of the collection resulted from combining the Kunst- und Wunderkammer (arts and natural wonders rooms) of Archduke Ferdinand II at Ambras Castle near Innsbruck and of Emperor Rudolf II from Prague Castle as well as the collection
of Archduke Leopold William and former holdings of the ► Schatzkammer (Treasury) in the Hofburg.
The collection has an astonishing variety of objects: in addition to sculptures of every conceivable material, it has vessels of precious stones, ivory carvings and goldsmith work as well as games, cabinets, toilet and other caskets, clocks, automatons and other complicated instruments. It is still not clear what the “Piisterich” (Fire-Blower), a 25-centimeter (10-inch) bronze figure from the 12th century, was used for. The little man, who is reproduced on many KHM products, was filled with water and placed among the embers, where he puffed steam through small holes in his mouth and nose. The most famous item in the collection, the “Saliera” by Benvenuto Cellini (an ornate saltcellar of gold and enamel) was stolen in May 2003. The Collection of Sculpture and Decorative Arts, which has been closed for renovation since 2002, is to reopen in 2005.
A staircase of white Carrara marble leads to the second floor. On the landing stands the sculpture “Theseus and the Centaur” by Antonio Canova. Created between 1805 and 1819, it was originally intended as a symbol of Napoleon; the symbolism was reinterpreted after his defeat. For this sculpture, made on a commission from Emperor Francis II/I, Pietro Nobile built the > Temple 90
of Theseus in the Volksgarten between 1819 and 1823.
In 1890 the piece was moved to this central location in the Kunsthistorisches Museum to complete the interior furnishings. The large ceiling fresco in the stairway is entitled “Apotheosis of the Renaissance” and was painted by the Hungarian artist Mihdly von Munkâcsy. The viewer steps into the painting like the man on the lower edge of the picture. The fanlights in the staircase present Renaissance masters, including Michelangelo, Veronese, Titian, Leonardo da Vinci and Raphael. Each of the four sides has three lunettes by Hans Makart. The spandrel pictures between the capitals of the huge columns are by Gustav Klimt, Ernest Klimt and Franz von Matsch. They depict the development of art (a sign near the Cupola Hall explains the individual pictures in detail). Gustav Klimt, who with his brother and Matsch also painted the ceiling frescoes above the Main Staircase of the Burgtheater (>• Environs), was responsible here for “Egypt” and “Greek Classicism.”
The Picture Gallery spreads across the entire second floor. Italian, Spanish and French pictures are found in the southwestern wing; the northeastern wing has Dutch, Flemish and German paintings. The foundations for the Picture Gallery were laid by Archduke Leopold William during his governorship in the Netherlands from 1647 to 1656. He acquired some 1400 pictures, mostly Renaissance Venetian painting (Titian, Veronese,
Tintoretto) as well as major works by Flemish masters of the 15th to the 17th century (van Eyck, Rubens, van Dyck). In 1651 David Teniers the Younger painted the Archduke with several visitors at his picture gallery in Brussels, and the 51 Italian paintings that are depicted are mostly in the Kunsthistorisches Museum today.
The KHM’s gallery portrait was one of a series that Leopold William commissioned to document his collection. In addition, the Archduke tried to acquire paintings for the collection of his brother Emperor Ferdinand III at Prague Castle after it was looted by the Swedes. The collection had been founded decades earlier by Emperor Rudolf II (1552-1612), a great lover of art. In the early 18th century, Charles VI decided to bring together the Habs- burg’s painting collections in Vienna. Leopold William’s collection was put on display in the Baroque manner in the Stallburg along with holdings from Prague Castle and several other palaces. In 1728 in the course of this rearrangement, Charles VI commissioned the Neapolitan painter Francesco Solimena to create a large painting that would be a monument to the Emperor and his artistic sensibilities: with a solemn gesture the Imperial Minister of Buildings, Gundacker Ludwig Joseph Count Althan, hands the Emperor a three- volume inventory of the Imperial Picture Gallery. This painting can be seen in Room VII, and if it seems a bit odd, that is because the court painter Johann Gottfried Auerbach added the faces of Charles VI and Althan to the otherwise finished painting.
In 1776, Empress Maria Theresa decided to open the Picture Gallery in the Upper Belvedere Palace to the public. By 1781, the paintings had been put on display in accordance with historical criteria. Under her son Joseph II, the collection grew rapidly as Flemish and Italian paintings were added, most of them large-format altar paintings taken from the monasteries and churches that had been dissolved. Many artworks were lost when Napoleon conquered Vienna in 1809, and during the next century almost nothing was added to the collection.
There are many paintings here that simply should not be missed: the Vermeer and Rembrandt’s self-portraits, the “Madonna in the Meadow” by Raphael, the “Self- portrait in a Convex Mirror” by Parmigianino and “Christ Carrying the Cross” by Hieronymus Bosch. It is worth taking extra time to study the unbelievably detailed paintings by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, including “The Fight Between Carnival and Lent,” “Children’s Games” and “The Tower of Babel.” Viewing the “Peasant Wedding” you may legitimately wonder why the red-jacketed man carrying the pies has three legs. Another strange detail is the superfluous river in “The Assumption of the Virgin Mary” by Peter Paul Rubens. According to the music philosopher Reger in Thomas Bernhard’s novel Old Masters, if you study a painting long enough, you will eventually discover a serious mistake.
Or you can simply enjoy the fantastic details: for example, the wonderfully evil cat in “The Feast of the Bean King” by Jacob Jordaens or the mouth of the dragon at the feet of “Saint Margaret” by Raphael and his studio. And the allegorical depictions of the seasons and elements by Giuseppe Arcimboldo are always popular. He was court painter from 1562 to 1587 under the emperors Ferdinand I, Maximilian II and Rudolf II. The 13 views of Vienna and imperial palaces painted by Bernardo Bellotto (Canaletto) between 1758 and 1761 on a commission from Empress Maria Theresa give us a highly interesting impression of the city and palaces at the time