The west wing of Floor 1 of Upper Belvedere is decidedly un-Klimt: not a glimmer of Jugendstil gold to be seen. But it still has many treats for the innocent visitor…
- Portraits, landscapes, and more from the 17th to 19th centuries
- Look out for:
- Jacques Louis David’s famous Napoleon portrait
- Leopold’s lip
- An unusual portrait of Empress Elisabeth
- The Belvedere is a dynamic museum, so the actual works on display may vary
- All info in English and German
- See also: Upper Belvedere exhibition overview
As with the Upper Belvedere Klimt exhibition, the rooms are arranged by theme, drawing you through local art eras (Baroque to Biedermeier) but also tackling topics such as the portrayal of the Habsburgs.
Think of it as a gentle stroll through an important period in Austria’s art history, with a few special appearances from international artists.
Here a few of my personal highlights:
(Napoleon at the St. Bernhard Pass. Photo courtesy of and © Belvedere, Wien. Reproduced with permission under the terms of Creative Commons License CC BY-SA 4.0.)
Much of the architecture and decoration of the Belvedere palaces glorifies the military achievements of their owner, Prince Eugene. The same might be said of Jacques Louis David’s iconic 1801 portrait of Napoleon.
This is one of five versions of Napoleon at the St. Bernhard Pass, popularly known as Napoleon crossing the Alps. The other paintings can be found in Paris and Berlin.
The Belvedere version pictures him atop a white charger in a suitably heroic pose, red robe flowing around him in the wind.
The imagery may have been slightly, ahem, “economical with the truth”; I daresay those breeches don’t make good winter wear. But nobody wants to see an emperor looking anything other than dashing and imperial. Least of all the emperor himself.
For a novelist like myself, the ebony, tortoiseshell and tin travel desk from around 1700 looked very impressive. Not the sort of thing you’d use for writing shopping lists, but definitely suited to issuing significant proclamations with huge red seals.
The same gallery has a 1760 painting of the family of Count Nikolaus Pálffy von Erdöd by Martin van Meytens the Younger (famous for his court and aristocratic portraits).
The family appear to have alarmingly-similar faces, which an expert could likely explain in terms of art history. But I choose to think that Count Nikolaus (or his wife) was particularly keen to silence any doubts about the paternity of the children.
The mid-18th-century landscape paintings by, for example, Johann Christian Brand caught my eye. The flowing, jumbled nature of the pre-industrialised landscapes are a joy – all curves and no lines, unlike our modern farmland.
The Habsburg lip
The Habsburg monarchs were famous for a distinctive facial feature – the protruding “Habsburg” lower lip (a term still used in modern medicine). A marble relief of Emperor Leopold I provides a classic illustration of this phenomenon.
Elisabeth and Franz Joseph
Two paintings, in particular, stand out from the various portrayals of the Habsburgs, because they drift away from the more usual ingratiating and mythologising alternatives:
- Franz von Matsch’s 1916 portrait of Emperor Franz Joseph on his deathbed, all the strength gone (though the face retains just a glimmer of Imperial steel)
- Anton Romako’s 1883 portrait of Empress Elisabeth with a dog. Elisabeth guarded her image with the intensity of today’s A-list celebrities. So it was quite a shock to see this dark, brooding picture which stands in stark contrast to the more usual (and kinder) painting of Sisi by George Martin Ignaz Raab next to it