Wander through Vienna’s Volksgarten park and you’ll encounter a little bit of Greece among the roses and memorials: the early 19th-century Theseus Temple.
- Built in the image of a Greek temple as a home for a Canova sculpture
- Now used for temporary exhibitions of a single work of contemporary art
- Good place for shade and a seat in summer
- See also: The Volksgarten Park
Temple or art gallery?
To answer the question posed in the headline: both, actually.
The Theseus Temple represents history going full circle. What once was is once again, which sounds a little abstract, so let me explain…
The Theseus Temple went up in 1829 to a design by Peter Nobile. The neo-classic building mirrors a Doric temple in Athens that was completed in around 415BC and dedicated to the Greek God, Hephaestus. The original is still around today.
Which begs the question why it bears the name, Theseus Temple.
Well, the original Greek temple also carried the name Theseum or Theseion, based on the belief in later centuries that Theseus’s bones were buried within.
(The original “Theseus Temple” in Greece. Image courtesy of the Rijksmuseum)
Equally, the new Viennese version was a purpose-built exhibition hall for a sculpture by Antonio Canova: the Theseus Group. Completed in the second decade of the 1800s, it depicts Theseus (he of Minotaur fame) battling the centaur, Eurytus.
The Theseus Temple continued its role as exhibition site intermittently until wear and tear sort of put an end to that. However, after extensive renovations returned it to its full glory in 2010, the art came back under the auspices of the Kunsthistorisches Museum (KHM).
(Incidentally, you can view Canova’s sculpture in the main building of the KHM, where it graces the beautiful main staircase.)
(Theseus and the Centaur. Joseph Steinmüller, after Antonio Canova, 1805 – 1841. Image courtesy of the Rijksmuseum)
The Kunsthistorisches Museum now uses the Theseus Temple for a series of exhibitions of single works of contemporary art, harking back to the original purpose of the building. One artwork appears each year for a limited time.
The 2019 exhibition ran from April 25 to October 6 (daily, 11am to 6pm) and featured the work, Turisti (Tourists), by the Italian artist, Maurizio Cattelan, on loan from the Collezione Prada.
Fifteen stuffed pigeons perched on the decorated cornices of the temple’s interior, a witty and thought-provoking reference that alluded to the tourist invasion of Venice and related issues.
How to get to the Theseus Temple
Follow directions for the Volksgarten and then, frankly, just keep your eyes open. The temple is pretty much slap bang in the centre of the park.
Address: Volksgarten, 1010 Vienna