You probably don’t think of cathedrals when you think of 20th-century modern art. Maybe you should, though.
The Dom Museum, which is part of the Archdiocese of Vienna and home to many cathedral treasures, manages the trick of combining historical riches with abstract and avant-garde pieces from modern Austria.
- Small collection of ecclesiastical and modern art
- Some gems in there (like a 9th-century book and a Klimt sketch)
- Quick to get around and an intriguing mix of items
- See also:
If you’re expecting dusty shelves with cathedral statues worn down by too many Viennese winters, then you’d be mistaken.
After a three-year renovation, the Dom museum reopened as a bright, airy, and modern exhibition space with three main components:
- The Otto Mauer modern art collection
- The ecclesiastical treasures dating back over 1000 years
- Temporary exhibitions
Otto Mauer (a priest) was a driving force in promoting modern art and artists in the post-WWII period, running a gallery close to Stephansdom cathedral and accumulating a collection now owned by the Dom Museum.
This remarkable chaplain contributed to, for example, such publications as Profil. The Austrian Monthly Magazine for the Graphic Arts (my translation of the German title).
In the room dedicated to the Mauer collection, you find works by renowned contemporary Austrian artists, including (on my visit) a black chalk sketch by Gustav Klimt (“Old man”).
Be sure to watch the video (which has English subtitles). It explains Mauer’s role in re-establishing the ancient link between the church and contemporary art. Not an easy task for him, as you can imagine.
Should you wish to explore that historical link between art and religion in more detail, consider a trip to the early rooms in the Kunstkammer of the Kunsthistorisches Museum, for example. Or try the Schottenstift Museum attached to the abbey of the same name.
Modern thinking creeps into the more traditional Cathedral collection in the Dom Museum, too.
You sense the influence in the organisation under themes like “celebrate” or “follow”. Or in the occasional mix of old and new, like when a 2017 abstract graphite drawing provides the backdrop to a 1630 silver and gold monstrance.
The ecclesiastical treasures are much as you might expect: chalices, manuscripts, altarpieces, sculptures, paintings, and similar. A silver bishop’s staff from 1515 rubs shoulders with 14th-century wooden figures and 12th-century plaques. The highlights for me were:
- A late 9th-century (!) parchment book. Impressive, though I liked the late 15th-century Vorchentau Missal even more: it looked like a spellbook with its heavy clasps, beautiful script, decorated capitals, floral additions and gilt decor
- The 14th-century portrait of Rudolf IV, regarded as a pivotal moment in the history of portraiture (it’s the oldest known portrait featuring a half-frontal view)
- The gilded, enamelled glass bottles from Syria, dating back to around 1300. Gorgeous.
The temporary exhibitions often reflect the wider approach of mixing the historical with current themes and art.
At the time of writing, for example, the rich and poor exhibition traces the interaction through time between these two economic states using various artistic media and installations: Dürer and Bruegel rub shoulders with works by modern and contemporary artists.
Tickets & visitor tips
The museum has just a handful of rooms, so it doesn’t take long to get around. I was in for an hour and that included taking notes and watching bits and pieces of the videos.
(Booking service provided by Tiqets.com*, who I am an affiliate of)
A few more tips:
- Also consider a combi-ticket* with Stephansdom, which gets you up the cathedral towers, into the crypt, etc.
- All items on display are labelled in German and English. You can also pick up a free English booklet with extensive details on collection highlights
- Coin-operated lockers are available
- The lockers, ticket counter and exhibitions are on different levels, but a lift ensures no accessibility issues
- A small shop around the ticket counter sells the usual souvenirs (postcards, fridge magnets, pencils, notebooks etc.), including some that nicely mimic the coloured zig-zag roof design of Stephansdom
- For something untypically Viennese after your visit, walk around the back of the cathedral opposite to find the Haas&Haas tea rooms. Yep, tea. With, for example, cucumber sandwiches. (They sell coffee, too)
How to get to the Dom Museum
See the main Stephansdom article for travel tips. The Dom Museum is outside the cathedral, along the row of shops opposite the north tower.
If you stand before the main entrance to the cathedral, go round to the left and keep going. You should see the museum on your left, next to the ramps leading down into an underground garage and one up from the famous Pirker store should you feel in need of some Lebkuchen.
Address: Stephansplatz 6, 1010 Vienna | Website