The Kunsthistorisches Museum (Vienna’s main museum of art) was built as part of the extraordinary burst of construction activity that accompanied the development of the Ringstraße in the latter part of the nineteenth century.
The building took 20 years to complete and was officially opened in 1891. Its main purpose was to house the art collected by various imperial personalities over the centuries.
Of course, art of such high calibre deserved a building to match. Unfortunately, the suggestions originally proposed by various architects met with little enthusiasm. In the end, the museum’s design was dictated in a wider project drawn up with Emperor Franz-Josef’s approval by Gottfried Semper and Karl Freiherr von Hasenauer.
This wider project was the Kaiserforum or Imperial Forum, intended as a complex of buildings and arches spanning the Ringstraße, of which the art museum would form the southern part together with the natural history museum. The two museums were designed as mirror images of one another, separated by a park square.
The museums were built to plan, but the forum itself was never completed.
The outside of the museum features a series of statutes built as the personification of the arts and art history, together with representations of real people – famous artists and their sponsors. All of which are presented in chronological order, beginning with the ancients at the back of the building and moving forward in time clockwise.
So, for example, at the rear of the building you’ll find the Athenian statesman Pericles. At the front, representations of great centers of Renaissance culture like Venice and statues of famous artists like Titian, Michelangelo and Raphael. And on the side facing the Ring, representations of those modern cities already possessed of great art museums, like London, Paris, Madrid and Milan.
Needless, to say the interior of the museum also reflects the splendour of its art collection and imperial sponsor, and includes many famous works by the likes of Rembrandt and Raphael.
Address: Kunsthistorisches Museum, Maria Theresien-Platz, 1010 Vienna
Website: http://www.khm.at/ (includes a complete version in English)