The west wing of Floor 1 of Upper Belvedere is decidedly un-Klimt.
Portraits, battle scenes, busts, landscapes, still life studies and more are here, but all from the 1700s and early 1800s. And not a glimmer of Art Nouveau gold to be seen.
If a portrait of Archduchess Marie Christine fails to tickle your artistic fancy, press on regardless, for this wing has some treats for the innocent visitor…
The man himself
Almost any book or brochure on Belvedere features the iconic 1718 painting of Prince Eugene, Belvedere’s first owner, pointing disdainfully at the battle scenes behind him. It’s in the first room off the staircase (the Garderobe).
Not only was Eugene a master military strategist, but he never suffered from helmet hair:
Source: Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam
Perhaps the most impressive part of this gallery section is the chapel.
Room 4 (formerly the library) contains various items of religious art and, appropriately, leads to a small balcony that looks down onto the chapel. It’s small in size, but big on baroque splendour, rich in white, gold and brown marble.
Photo: Eva Würdinger, © Belvedere, Wien
Piety is all well and good, but you wouldn’t want to get cold while saying your prayers – Eugene’s chapel balcony had its own fireplace to add a little warmth to religious proceedings. And the balcony meant, of course, that he needn’t mix with the rabble below and could, presumably, throw fruit at itinerant members of his household staff.
The Habsburg lip
The Habsburg monarchs were famed for a distinctive facial feature – the protruding “Habsburg” lower lip. You can see a classic example in Room 5 (the former audience chamber), with a marble relief of Emperor Leopold 1.
The next room is a Gold Cabinet – the sister to the selfie room in the east wing. It houses a quite extraordinary collection of busts by Franz Xaver Messerschmidt, whose imagination was even bigger than his name.
At first glance, you’d suspect you were viewing a modern art installation. The faces are incredibly lifelike, but feature very excessive or unusual grimaces and expressions. So it comes as a shock (to me anyway) to know they date from the 1770s.
I can’t imagine what nightmares they gave innocent archduchesses at the time.
Belvedere as it was
The former conference room is notable for a model reconstruction of how Upper Belvedere looked in 1722. The curious thing to note is how many lower floor rooms were actually open to the elements.
Given Vienna’s winters, I’m curious as to how they coped. Presumably Belvedere was largely a summer residence, so perhaps these rooms were shut up for the cold season?
The final room in this section is the former antechamber. War is a bit of a theme here. The ceiling painting, for example, glorifies (again) Eugene the war hero, and relevant paintings grace the walls.
I enjoyed the location of The Militiaman’s Departure, an 1813 painting by Johann Peter Krafft. The air of sadness and sacrifice as he leaves his family contrasts with the militaristic glorification presented in the neighboring piece, which is none other than the famous 1801 portrait of Napoleon by Jacques Louis David.
This is one of five versions of Napoleon at the St. Bernhard Pass, which pictures him atop a white charger in a suitably heroic pose, red robe flowing around him in the wind. This may have been slightly economical with the truth giving he was crossing the alps at the time. But nobody wants to see an emperor looking anything other than imperial. Least of all the emperor himself.
P.S. Krafft painted The Militiaman’s Return, too, which is nice.