The Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna is one of the foremost museums in the world, with rich holdings comprising artworks from seven millennia – from Ancient Egypt to the late 18th century. The collections of Renaissance and Baroque art are of particular importance. The main building shown above houses the Picture Gallery, the Collection of Greek and Roman Antiquities, the Egyptian and Near Eastern Collection, the Coin Collection, and the Kunstkammer that reopened in March 2013. It was opened around 1891 at the same time as the Naturhistorisches Museum, by Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria-Hungary. The two museums have identical exteriors and face each other across Maria-Theresien-Platz.
The Maria-Theresien-Platz of Vienna is a large square (Platz) joining the Ringstraße (Vienna’s giant, round, central street) with the Museumsquartier, a museum of modern arts located in the former Imperial Stables. Facing each other from the sides of the square are two identical buildings, the Naturhistorisches Museum (Natural History Museum), and the Kunsthistorisches Museum (the Art History Museum). These two buildings are identical, save for the statuary on their façades. The Naturhistorisches’ façade has statues depicting personifications of the various continents known to Austrian science at the time – Africa, Asia, Europe and the Americas, while the Kunsthistorisches façade features famous European artists – such as the Dutch Bruegel, among others.
Maria Theresia; (1717-1780) was the only female ruler of the Habsburg dominions and the last of the House of Habsburg. She was the sovereign of Austria, Hungary, Croatia, Bohemia, Mantua, Milan, Lodomeria and Galicia, the Austrian Netherlands and Parma. By marriage, she was Duchess of Lorraine, Grand Duchess of Tuscany and Holy Roman Empress. She started her 40-year reign when her father, Emperor Charles VI, died in October 1740. Maria Theresa and her husband, Francis I, Holy Roman Emperor, had sixteen children, including Queen Marie Antoinette of France, Queen Maria Carolina of Naples, Duchess Maria Amalia of Parma and two Holy Roman Emperors, Joseph II and Leopold II. Though she was expected to cede power to Francis and Joseph, both of whom were officially her co-rulers in Austria and Bohemia, Maria Theresa was the absolute sovereign who ruled by the counsel of her advisers.
The two Ringstraße museums were commissioned by the Emperor in order to find a suitable shelter for the Habsburgs’ formidable art collection and to make it accessible to the general public. The façade was built of sandstone. The building is rectangular in shape, and topped with a dome that is 60 meters high. The inside of the building is lavishly decorated with marble, stucco ornamentations, gold-leaf, and paintings.
As you walk in the front door, you find yourself in a round entrance hall with short staircases on either side leading to the first floor collections. Directly ahead, you see a very dramatic staircase with a white sculpture by Antonio Canova. An additional elegant feature is the circular opening in the ceiling of the entrance hall that offers visitors their first glimpse of the cupola hall.
As you walk up the central stairwell you pass by the lions and sculpture by Antonio Canova. The building’s internal structure combines two architectural traditions: entrance hall, staircase and cupola hall form a dramatic unit that celebrates the imperial patron and his predecessors. Ascending the stairs, visitors pass Antonio Canova’s “Theseus Slaying the Centaur” on their way to the cupola hall, the apex of imperial display. Along this central axis a wealth of neo-baroque decorations create one of the most solemn and splendid interiors of late-nineteenth-century Vienna, very Germanic with the dark marble and the gilded highlights.
Once you reach the second floor, you find the café for the museum. The food and service are not great but the view of the interior of the dome make up for it all. The interior of the Kunsthistorisches Museum is very Baroque and very Germanic, a must see if you are in Vienna.
KHM Website: http://www.khm.at/en/