Saturday, July 14, 2012

VIENNA, Part 3: From the Renaissance to Art Nouveau and Everything in Between

Vienna has one of the world's great art museums, the Kunsthistorisches Museum (translation: the Art History Museum), opened in 1891 by Franz Joseph I, Emperor of the Austro-Hungarian Emperor.  Most of the paintings are from the Habsburgs' collections  (the same line of rulers who lived in the Schonbrunn Palace).
The Kunsthistorisches Museum, photo from the Internet

The museum is very large, and in addition to the painting and sculpture wings, it also has a large collection of Egyptian sarcophagi and artifacts, some Greek and Roman antiquities, and 700,000 coins.  However, the picture gallery is the most extensive area, and that is where we spent most of our time.

The main entry is pretty dramatic:
I took a lot of photos based on two things: 1) famous artists, and 2) appealing art.  Usually those two criteria merged; occasionally they did not.  I went through my photos and chose my favorites and have organized them here in chronological order.  It is interesting to see the change in technique and style as the years progressed, which helps me better understand the other, much more modern art museum we saw in Vienna.  For the most part, these photos don't need any explanation, and other than labeling the paintings, I've included only minimal commentary:
Triptych: The Crucifixion, Roger van der Weyden, 1440

The Madonna of the Meadow, Raphael 1505

Note the similarities and contrasts in the two paintings of Salome below.  Salome herself doesn't look too disturbed in either one, but John looks a lot better in the earlier painting, and Salome is very stylish in the second.
Salome with Head of John the Baptist, Bernardino Luini, 1520
Salome with the Head of John the Baptist, Joseph Heintz, 1600

Johannes Kleberger, Albrecht Durer, 1525

I love Arcimboldo and did a post on his art in March 2011. I was so excited to see these!
Winter, Giuseppe Arcimboldo, 1566

Winter, Giuseppe Arcimboldo, 1563

Fire, Giuseppe Arcimboldo, 1566
Summer, Giuseppe Arcimboldo, 1563
Bruegel, the originator of the crowd scene, liked painting a picture full of people with something really significant happening somewhere in the crowd and everyone else milling about as if it is just another day. His paintings are fun to look at.
The Conversion of Paul, Pieter Bruegel the Elder, 1567

The Procession to Calvary, Pieter Bruegel the Elder, 1564

Tower of Babel, Pieter Bruegal the Elder, 1563

Infanticide at Bethlehem, Pieter Bruegel the Elder, 1565-1567
The painting below deviates from Bruegel's usual crowd scenes.  I love the color and style.  It's hard to believe it was painted almost 550 years ago.
The Return of the Herd, Pieter Bruegel the Elder, 1565
This woman was copying one of the artworks.  It looked almost like paint-by-numbers:

Caravaggio is one of my favorites. His paintings are quite a leap from previous paintings, aren't they? No one does light and shadow better than he does:
Crowning of Thorns, Caravaggio, 1607

David with Goliath's Head, Caravaggio, 1604/1605
This museum had room after room of paintings by Rubens.  I actually got sick of seeing his name.  However, there were quite a few that surprised me--these are not the chubby female nudes I always associate with him:
St. Jerome in the Vestments of a Cardinal, Peter Paul Rubens, 1625/1630

Self-Portrait, Peter Paul Rubens, 1638/1640

The Infant Christ with John the Baptist and Two Angels, Peter Paul Rubens, 1615/1620

Lamentation of Christ by the Virgin Mary and John, Peter Paul Rubens, 1614/1615  (I NEVER would have guessed this was Rubens.)

The Head of Medusa, Peter Paul Rubens, 1617/1618  (This one was a big surprise too!)

A Collection of Art and Natural Wonders, Hans Jordaens, 1630 (A painting of about 50 other paintings--an exercise in perspective and reproduction.)
Self-Portrait, Rembrandt Van Rijn, 1657.  It seems like about half of Rembrandt's paintings are of himself.

Kaiser Leopold I, Paul Strudel, 1695 (Ample evidence of all the Habsburg in-breeding here. His unfortunate looks didn't stop him from becoming the Holy Roman Emperor at age 18.)

St. Joseph's Dream, Anton Raphael Mengs, 1773/1774  (I've never heard of this artist, but I love the painting!)
Jacob and Rachel at the Well, Democrito Gandolfi, 1860?
Theseus Defeats the Centaur, Antonio Canova, 1805-1819  (This is the statue on the landing of the entrance stairway.)
Kaiser Franz Joseph I, Caspar Zumbusch, 1873 (This guy, born in the Schonbrunn Palace, ruled from 1848 to 1916.  He's the one who built the Kunsthistorisches Museum.)
The most recent art we saw in the museum was by Gustav Klimt. These stunning paintings decorate the walls around a doorway and are more like a mural than stand-alone art.  Klimt was just 29 years old when he painted them, and the Vienna Secession was still six years away.
Roman and Venetian Quattrocentro, Gustav Klimt, 1891

Old Italian Art, Gustav Klimt, 1891

Old Italian Art, Gustav Klimt, 1891

Greek Antiquity, Gustav Klimt, 1891
Gustav Klimt is the bridge to the other museum we went to, the Vienna Secession building.  Along the way we passed this building.  I have no idea what it is, but I love its Art Nouveau embellishments!

The Secession building is much smaller than I imagined it to be, and have I learned since coming home that it was damaged by bombs during World War II and then set on fire by retreating German forces.

It was rebuilt  in 1963 to match its original architecture:

. . . even including the date of the original building and name of the architect:
Walking up the steps, we knew we were in for a unique experience.  At first I thought this was a globe.  Correct me if I'm mistaken, but doesn't it look more like a watermelon in a bowl riding on the backs of four turtles?
The Secessionists were Austrian artists who formed a group in 1897 after resigning from the Association of Austrian Artists because they objected to its conservatism and focus on historic art.  While Austria lagged behind, other places in Europe had moved into a more modern style of art, and the Secessionists were ready to join them.  In particular, the French had embraced a new kind of symbolism in art, and the Secessionists looked to them as a model.  Gustav Klimt was the first President of the Secession.

The phrase over the doorway of the building translates as: "To every age its art. To art its freedom."
The building functioned and still functions as a small museum for the most cutting-edge art in Europe. Even in the beginning, no particular style dominated the exhibits, which in itself was revolutionary.  That is certainly true of what was on exhibit when we were there.  On the main floor were several soundless videos that were being shown on very large screens.  The lights were off, everything was very dark, and the videos themselves--sepia-toned films of people riding bicycles, for example--did not emit very much light. The whole thing was kind of creepy.

In the well-lit upstairs room was this very, um, unique hanging fruit sculpture:
Art lovers can make themselves quite comfortable on the viewing platform:
. . . and maybe even get some lunch:
The big draw to the building, however, is The Beethoven Frieze in the basement.

The frieze, based on Richard Wagner's interpretation of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, was created by Klimt for an exhibition in 1902 that celebrated Beethoven and featured twenty-one different artists.  After the exhibition was over, it was purchased, cut into seven pieces and removed, and put into storage.  Over the years it has changed hands several times and was last purchased by the Republic of Austria in 1973.  The government paid to restore the work, which took ten years.  A special climate-controlled room was created in the basement of the Secession building in the 1980s to house it permanently.

Again, no photos were allowed, except for of this reproduction of the panel entitled "Poetry" in the ante-room:
Yeah, it made me think of Beethoven too.

When our son Andrew visited this building in 2007, he had to walk around the floor and crane his neck to see the frieze that ringed the wall at the high ceiling level.  
The Frieze as it would have looked when Andrew saw it a few years ago.
Since then, however, another artist has been allowed to install a piece of art in the room.  This installation is entitled Plattform and is just what the word says: a platform that takes the viewer to the top of the room so that the murals are at eye level. It contrasts markedly with the style of the murals, but then, that kind of shocking contrast is what this museum is all about.
Photo from here
I would never have guessed Klimt's mural had anything to do with Beethoven, but it was clearly a departure from thousands of paintings we saw in the Kunsthistorisches Museum.  The brochure we were given upon entry says the frieze "depicts humankind's search for happiness.  To symbolize this yearning, Klimt chose floating genii who lead us into the story, recurring several times in the frieze as a horizontal chain of figures."  The symbolism of the paintings on each of the four walls is then described in detail. 

Even after reading the brochure, I'm not sure that I see the connection to Beethoven, but that is the nature of symbolism, isn't it? It has a high degree of relativity.

Here are a few images from the internet:
The good knight on his quest to find happiness.
The Hostile Forces, represented as snakes
The Monster

Lasciviousness, Wantonness, and Intemperance

The Power of Poetry
The last image has a choir of angels singing the final chorus of Beethoven's Ninth, including the words "This kiss to the whole world."
Yep. This definitely represents a departure from Rafael, Caravaggio, Rubens, and Rembrandt.

Klimt eventually parted ways with the Vienna Secessionists over some difference of opinion, but he went on to paint some well-known masterpieces, including this one:
The Kiss, located in the Belvedere Palace in Vienna
In fact, today, July 14th, is Klimt's 150th birthday!  In his honor, Google has transformed The Kiss into today's logo:
Unfortunately, we didn't have time to get to the Belvedere Palace.

Bob, we definitely have to go back to Vienna.

Next up: Three Book Reviews


  1. These museums were wonderful. I could have spent at least another day in this city.

  2. Fascinating post! Thank you!

  3. Very cool. I love the depth in the Tower of Babel painting.

  4. Since I was honeymooning, and hadn't yet taken any art appreciation courses (that was a few years later), we didn't make it to these museums, so I was glad to get a tour, courtesey of your camera. However, I really loved the Art Nouveau everywhere, and we did see lots of random paintings on buildings and houses as we walked through Vienna. Thanks for the tour!