Upper Belvedere joins the Albertina, Art History and Natural History museums in presenting the visitor with the Vienna dilemma: what’s more impressive, the art on display or the building housing the art?
The palace is home to a number of the Austrian Gallery’s permanent art collections, including:
- the medieval masterpieces
- Klimt and the Vienna 1900 collection
- Baroque and early 19th century art
- Neoclassicism, romanticism and Biedermeier
- Realism and impressionism
Built between 1717 and 1723, the palace started life as the ceremonial residence of a military genius, Prince Eugene of Savoy (Lower Belvedere was the more functional palace). Yes, he had enough wealth to build palaces largely for show.
© Belvedere, Wien
Eugene fought a lot of battles, won most of them, and made sure we never forget the fact by decorating his homes with constant reminders: pictures of these battles, triumphalist wall decorations, and ceiling paintings of him being honored for his military achievements by grateful figures from mythology.
I can imagine him discussing each room with his Baroque interior decorator:
“Your suggestion for the north wall?
“Perhaps a battle scene, my prince.”
“You think so?”
“You can never have enough battle scenes in a palace. It keeps the servants on their toes.”
“Indeed. Can I be in it?”
“Of course, my prince.”
“And can we put one on the ceiling, too? Ideally with me in the middle and a host of angels. And Gods. And laurel wreaths. Lots of laurel wreaths.”
“You think it too much?” (moves hand to sword hilt)
“Indeed not, my prince. Perhaps some fallen enemy soldiers in chains just to add the necessary note of seriousness?”
Many parts of the palace are now modern gallery rooms, but with some notable exceptions.
For example, the entrance is the Sala terrena, a large, brilliant white “lobby” with a decorated stucco ceiling, sculpted pillars and supporting arches.
This leads off to the Grand Staircase: it seems you measured a person’s worth by the size of their staircase in Baroque days. And Eugene was worth a lot.
So the grand staircase is, well, pretty grand: a huge wide stone staircase with stucco martial reliefs and giant iron-wrought lamps that would have greeted visitors as they arrived in their carriages.
Photo: foto-manufaktur.at, © Belvedere, Wien
The stairs take you up into possibly Upper Belvedere’s biggest “wow” moment: the Marble Hall.
It’s two storeys tall and the illusionist paintings add false galleries and niches to the architecture. The windows give great views down to Lower Belvedere and let you properly grasp the layout of the main gardens. Although the room dates back to the early 1700s, it’s big historical moment was in 1955: it was here that the WWII allies signed the treaty that gave Austria its independence back.
There’s a also a small chapel which you can see while walking round the Baroque art collection.
- The ticket office is not in the palace itself, but an outbuilding slightly to the west. You’ll also find a shop there with more Klimt souvenirs than you can shake a paintbrush at. Even the cat in the famous photo of the artist has its own souvenir.
- The entrance to the palace itself is on the north side, facing the main gardens (just follow the big, red museum signs).
- This takes you into the entrance hall (the Sala terrena), which is your starting point:
- Lockers (take a €1 or €2 coin) and toilets are downstairs, or you can leave things at a manned cloakroom on the ground floor
- There’s a shop and temporary exhibition area to your left and the medieval masterpieces to your right
- Go ahead and up the stairs for the Marble Hall and the main permanent collections
- Without wishing to sound strange, it’s worth a trip to the toilets: they have elegant Villeroy and Boch porcelain sinks and piped period music!
- As in Lower Belvedere, look in each room for a copy of its Salomon Kleiner engraving from the 1730s. Not every room has one, but the picture lets you grasp the original design, decoration and function, even if the room no longer looks anything like it did in Eugene’s day.
How to get to Upper Belvedere
See the directions article.