Upper Belvedere joins the Albertina, Art History and Natural History museums in presenting you with the eternal Vienna dilemma: what’s more impressive – the exhibits on display or the building housing them?
- Permanent art exhibitions from the medieval to interwar periods
- World-leading collection of Klimt paintings
- Wonderful interior architecture
- Selected temporary exhibitions:
- See also: Belvedere ticket info & visitor tips
The permanent exhibitions
The Upper Belvedere palace houses most of the permanent Belvedere art collections and exhibitions. These include:
- The History of Belvedere
- The Medieval Masterpieces
- Klimt and Vienna around 1900 (the most popular part and where you find The Kiss)
- Baroque, Neoclassicism and Romanticism/Biedermeier
- Biedermeier, Realism/Impressionism and the interwar period
Upper Belvedere’s History
(Upper Belvedere in the 19th century. Photo courtesy of the Rijksmuseum)
Built between 1717 and 1723, the palace started life as the purely ceremonial residence of the military genius, Prince Eugene of Savoy. The Lower Belvedere building was the more functional residence.
So, yes, the prince had enough wealth to build a palace largely for show. Like a second car you keep for Sunday drives in the country.
Eugene fought a lot of battles, won most of them, and made sure we never forget the fact by decorating his homes with constant reminders.
Various locations within Upper Belvedere feature pictures of these battles, along with triumphalist wall decorations and ceiling paintings of him being honored for his military achievements by grateful figures from mythology.
You can imagine him discussing each room with his prospective Baroque interior decorator:
“Your suggestion for the north wall?”
“Perhaps a battle scene, my prince.”
“You think so?”
“You can never have enough battle scenes in a palace. It keeps the servants on their toes.”
“Indeed. Can I be in it?”
“Of course, my prince.”
“And can we put one on the ceiling, too? Ideally with me in the middle. With a host of angels. And Gods. And laurel wreaths. Lots of laurel wreaths.”
“You think it too much?” (Eugene moves hand to sword hilt)
“Not at all, my prince. Perhaps we might add some fallen enemy soldiers in chains, too?”
Many parts of the palace now consist of modern-style gallery rooms to host the priceless art on display. But other parts retain much of their historical grandeur.
(Upper Belvedere seen from the rear today. Not a lot has changed!)
For example, the entrance to Upper Belvedere is the Sala Terrena, a large, brilliant white “lobby” with a decorated stucco ceiling, sculpted pillars, and supporting arches.
This leads off to the Grand Staircase: it seems you measured a person’s worth by the size of their staircase in Baroque days. And Eugene was worth a lot.
The grand staircase is, well, pretty grand: a huge wide stone staircase with stucco martial reliefs and giant iron-wrought lamps that would have greeted visitors as they arrived in their carriages.
The stairs take you up into possibly Upper Belvedere’s biggest “wow” moment. The Marble Hall is two storeys tall and the illusionist paintings add false galleries and niches to the architecture.
The windows give great views down to Lower Belvedere and let you properly grasp the layout of the main gardens.
Although the room dates back to the early 1700s, its big historical moment was in 1955 when the allies signed the treaty here that gave Austria its independence back after the post-WWII occupation.
The palace also has a small chapel which you can see while walking round the Klimt part of the permanent exhibition.
Tickets & visitor tips
Check the main Belvedere article for ticket tips and other helpful information.
The entrance to the palace is on the north side, facing the main gardens and Lower Belvedere (just follow the big, red museum signs). This takes you into the entrance hall (the Sala Terrena), which is your starting point.
- Lockers (you need a €1 or €2 coin) and toilets are downstairs, or you can leave your things at a staffed cloakroom on the ground floor
- Once inside, there’s a shop, history exhibition, temporary exhibition and café to your left and the medieval masterpieces to your right
(Even if medieval art leaves you cold, consider at least going into the first room on the right. This often houses a single piece of contemporary art specially commissioned for the rather splendid-looking surroundings.)
- Go ahead and up the stairs for the Marble Hall and the main permanent collections
- Without wishing to sound strange, it’s worth a trip to the toilets: they have elegant Villeroy and Boch porcelain sinks!
- As elsewhere in Belvedere, look in each room for a copy of its Salomon Kleiner engraving from the 1730s. Not every room has one, but the picture lets you grasp the original design, decoration and function, even if the room no longer looks anything like it did in Eugene’s day.
How to get to Upper Belvedere
See the directions article for detailed guidance.
Address: Prinz Eugen-Straße 27, 1030 Vienna