Most people visit Belvedere for the art and architecture. But if you’re wondering how both came to be, then a small permanent exhibition at the Upper Belvedere palace tells the story…
(Note that at my last visit in early December 2022, this part was limited to a wall display as Upper Belvedere reorganises its permanent galleries and has the rather lovely special history exhibition down at Lower Belvedere. Check locally, and I will be revising the below as soon as everything settles.)
- Quick overview of the people and events behind Belvedere’s chronology
- Illustrated with relevant paintings, documents and other exhibits
- Belvedere is a dynamic institution so the precise contents of exhibits can change
- All info in English and German
- See also:
(Late 19th-century photo of Belvedere. Courtesy of the Rijksmuseum)
Like most 18th-century buildings in Vienna, Belvedere looks back on an eventful history. The same goes for the art collections.
The small ground floor exhibition at the Upper Belvedere traces the chronology that took the location from a sparkle in Prince Eugene’s eyes to today’s world-class art museum.
In addition to the detailed chronology written across the walls, significant personalities, buildings, and events get their own exhibits. Among the highlights:
- A beautiful wooden model of Upper Belvedere as it looked in 1722, carved in exquisite detail. The curious thing to note is how many lower floor rooms were actually open to the elements.
(It still shocks me to realise that the upper palace was largely representational. Imagine building a second, more ostentatious house on your property just so you can better impress visitors and have more room for the vol-au-vents.)
- Portraits of artists and sculptors involved in building the palaces and interior decoration. For example:
- Johann Christoph Mader, who sculpted the atlantes in the Sala Terrena
- Ignace-Jacques Parrocel, known for his paintings of battle scenes
- Portraits of directors of the Österreichische Galerie Belvedere (who run Belvedere), whose leadership contributed to the growth of the collections and Belvedere’s importance. For example, Egon Schiele’s 1917 portrait of Dr Franz Martin Haberditzl (art, history and art history all in one!)
(Josef Löwy (photographer), Eduard Ritter von Engerth (1818 – 1897), painter, museal civil servant, director of the k.k. Gemäldegalerie in Belvedere, around 1897, Wien Museum Inv.-Nr. 133392, excerpt reproduced with permission under the terms of the CC0 licence)
- Photos, documents and other items illustrating significant events, such as:
- The restitution of works of art confiscated by the Nazis
- WWII war damage to the buildings
- The signing of the treaty granting Austria its independence in 1955 (which took place in Belvedere’s Marble Hall)
A particular highlight is seeing letters written by Klimt and Schiele, whose works figure prominently in the permanent Belvedere exhibitions.
Klimt wrote like he painted, with a distinctive creativity. His capital letters are so wide, an H looks like a suspension bridge. Pretty sure he would have got marked down for consistency by his German teachers.
As for Schiele: he seemed to see handwriting clarity as more a guideline than a must.
The history exhibition is not Belvedere’s main highlight, of course (cough…The Kiss…cough), but I enjoyed having the palace and collections placed in their historical context. (And that wooden model is a real delight).
Next exhibition: The Medieval Collection