Belvedere is most famous for its more recent art: Klimt, Schiele and the like. But the Upper Palace also houses a collection from a time when a Klimt painting might have started a religious war.
(Note that on my last visit in late February 2023, Belvedere had made some modifications to this part of their exhibitions within the wider reeorganisation that ends in late March 2023. So expect some changes to the below. I will update once the reorganisation is done and dusted.)
- Small exhibition of masterpieces by medieval artists and sculptors
- The Belvedere is a dynamic museum, so the actual works on display may vary
- All information also presented in English
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Contemporary & medieval?
(View of a Carlone Contemporary exhibition installation: Aldo Rossi’s Sleeping Elephant by Lena Henke © Johannes Stoll / Belvedere, Wien)
The bulk of Belvedere’s medieval collection lives in the former stables, but the masterpieces are in Upper Belvedere: various examples of fine Gothic religious art displayed across several rooms on the palace’s ground floor.
The room preceding the collection is the palace’s former large summer drawing room, with wall and ceiling paintings that give the illusion you’re looking at three-dimensional architecture, rather than a flat painting.
These illusionist paintings mix in nicely with actual arches, making it hard to distinguish between what’s real and what’s fake (plus ça change).
The central ceiling also features a celestial theme around the figures of Aurora and Apollo.
This Carlone Hall is quite beautiful and also home to a series of exhibitions; every six months or so, an invited artist presents a modern work that fits within this particular architectural context and imagery.
The medieval exhibition
(Znaimer Altar. Photo courtesy of and © Belvedere, Wien; reproduced with permission under the terms of Creative Commons License CC BY-SA 4.0.)
Medieval art might not be everybody’s cup of tea (or flagon of ale), but even the uncultured (i.e. me) can spot the difference between the masterpieces and the rest.
Equally important…the rooms themselves often offer something to marvel at in their own right.
So what are the highlights?
The Znaim altarpiece
One room contains altar panels, including the 1440s altarpiece from Znaim (in today’s Czechia) along one wall.
The realistic reliefs carved from lime and spruce detail chaotic Crucifixion scenes: the original colours remain clear around 700 years later. (700 years!)
A master at work
A collection of late-gothic panel paintings from the 15th and 16th century includes two panels by the Master of the Schottenaltar from around 1470.
Most of these altar panels live in the Schottenstift Museum and are notable for portraying biblical scenes, but often with contemporary clothing and backgrounds (including 15th century Vienna). So their value to historians is enormous.
The same room also features panels by Michael Pacher from the late 1400s, which leap out at you because of the sudden jump in quality.
Even the untrained eye sees how Pacher uses depth and perspective to stand out from his peers.
The open cabinet
The final room in the medieval collection still features its original grotesque frescoes (Roman-style decorative scrollwork), dedicated to the deeds of Aeneas.
These frescoes provide another classical reference of the kind much loved by Prince Eugene (Belvedere’s original owner and a man quite happy to draw parallels between his many exploits and the heroes of Greek and Roman mythology).
The room hosts some original wooden and stone Gothic sculptures from the 1300s, 1400s, and early 1500s.
It only takes a few minutes to view the entire collection, and the exhibits provide a nice contrast to the modern works displayed one floor up.
Incidentally, if you enjoy medieval art, can I recommend the Kunstkammer at the Kunsthistorisches Museum? Many of the works within date back to a similar time period. Plus you get to see the glory that is the Saliera.
Next on your trip around Upper Belvedere: Klimt and Vienna around 1900