Born on June 28, 1577, Flemish artist Peter Paul Rubens was one of the most celebrated and prolific artists in Europe during his lifetime as well as the entire Baroque era. His patrons included royalty and churches, and his art depicted subjects from religion, history, and mythology. Rubens delighted in undertakings of the vastest kind. “The large size of a picture”, he writes to W. Trumbull in 1621, “gives us painters more courage to represent our ideas with the utmost freedom and semblance of reality… I confess myself to be, by a natural instinct, better fitted to execute works of the largest size.” Aside from being the one of the greatest artists of his time, Peter Paul Rubens was also a diplomat in his later life, and travelled a fair bit by virtue of this role. He was well suited to diplomacy because he was very good at dealing with people. Even though he was the most prolific painter in Europe at the time, he was able to keep up because of his boundless energy and great organizational skills. He woke up early to go to mass, and worked until late at night. He hired assistants to help him. The positions as Rubens’ assistants were very sought after by other painters, the most renowned of whom was Anthony van Dyck . Rubens died of gout in 1640 at age 62. The paintings of Rubens are found in all the principal galleries in Europe: Antwerp and Brussels, Madrid, Paris, Lille, Dresden, Berlin, Munich, Vienna, St. Petersburg, London, Florence, Milan, Turin exhibit several hundreds of his works. J. Smith's Catalogue gives descriptions of more than thirteen hundred compositions.
The Hofburg in Vienna is the former Winter Imperial Residence. It was the Habsburgs' principal winter residence, as the Schönbrunn Palace was their preferred summer residence. From 1438 to 1583 and from 1612 to 1806, it was the seat of the kings and emperors of the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation, thereafter the seat of the Emperor of Austria until 1918. Today it is the official seat of the Austrian Federal President. This complex of imperial edifices, the first of which was constructed in 1279, grew with the empire, and today the palace is virtually a city within a city. The earliest parts surround the Swiss Court, a courtyard named for the Swiss mercenaries who performed guard duty here. The Hofburg's styles, which are not always harmonious, result from each emperor's opting to add to or take away some of the work done by his predecessors. Called simply die Burg, or “the Palace,” by the Viennese, the Hofburg has withstood three major sieges and a great fire. Of its more than 2,600 rooms in 18 buildings, 54 staircases and 19 courts, fewer than two dozen rooms are open to the public.
On our way to Stephansdom we ran into this beautiful church right in the middle of the street, traffic and horse drawn carriages go around it on both sides. Peterskirche (Saint Peter’s Church) is a Baroque Roman Catholic parish church in Vienna. It was transferred in 1970 by the Archbishop of Vienna, Franz Cardinal König, to the priests of the Opus Dei. The medieval church had three altars, with an apse in the south instead of the normal eastern orientation. This unusual feature has triggered many discussions among experts, and it is suspected that the church was adapted from a previously secular building. The church was, and still is, surrounded by shops. The old church burned down in 1661 and was given only makeshift repairs. The decision to build a new church was taken up with the arrival of the Fraternity of the Holy Trinity of which the emperor Leopold I was a member. He had taken a vow to rebuild this church when Vienna was ravaged by the plague in 1679-1680.
When we visited the painting floor of the Kunsthistorisches Museum, we turned a corner into a fairly large room filled with paintings by Rembrandt van Rijn. Of course I have decided to do a post of the paintings. Rembrandt often painted pictures of the Apostle Paul so Paul obviously had a major impact on his life. In his paintings, he tried to capture the force and emotion of Paul's letters. In about 1659, Rembrandt finished another painting of the Apostle Paul. It is a peaceful scene of Paul writing letters at his desk. It is interesting to note the contrast between this picture and the exhilarating action of the Baroque paintings of Paul. Rembrandt, instead of emphasizing the action, portrays Paul as the embodiment of profound meditation. A sword, the trademark of Paul, leans in darkness against the wall. While his face basks in radiant light, the rest of the painting is dark with heavy colors. The depth of vision and feeling is seen with the deep, thoughtful gaze of the apostle. Paul's passionate concern for the gospel is vividly captured by Rembrandt. The painting reveals Paul's emphasis on the Word of God, as the sword of the Spirit, and his role as an apostle bringing the Word.
Albrecht Dürer (1471–1528) was born in the Franconian city of Nuremberg, one of the strongest artistic and commercial centers in Europe during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. He was a brilliant painter, draftsman, and writer, though his first and probably greatest artistic impact was in the medium of printmaking. More than any other Northern European artist, Dürer was engaged by the artistic practices and theoretical interests of Italy. He visited the country twice, from 1494 to 1495 and again from 1505 to 1507, absorbing firsthand some of the great works of the Italian Renaissance, as well as the classical heritage and theoretical writings of the region. While in Nuremberg in 1512, the Holy Roman emperor Maximilian I enlisted Dürer into his service, and Dürer continued to work mainly for the emperor until 1519. The emperor is depicted here as an elegant private gentleman. The desired effect of dignity and power is achieved by the manner in which the emperor fills the frame and the brilliant execution of the fur collar. Several different interpretations have been suggested for the pomegranate in the emperor's hand: as a private proxy for the imperial orb, as a reference to the myth of Persephone and thus a reference to death, and as an allusion to the conquest of Granada by the Christian armies in 1492.
The present-day appearance of the Viennese Treasury is the result of a long developmental process which began in the 14th century. Back then, the secure vaults located beside the Hofburg’s Imperial Chapel were used to hold implements made of gold and silver, coins, precious stones and pieces of jewelry, as well as documents and insignia important to the House of Habsburg for the purpose of legally ensuring earthly power. Also kept were numerous relics that served as the ecclesiastical prerequisite for this power. The treasury's collection grew significantly during the 16th century, under the reign of Emperor Ferdinand I and later Rudolf II, who moved the treasures to a dedicated wing, known as the Kunsthaus. Since the 18th century, the Schatzkammer is located in the Alte Burg, and accessible from the Schweizerhof (Swiss Courtyard), the oldest inner court of the Hofburg.
While we were in Vienna we decided to we decided to splurge on a gourmet restaurant with an outstanding view over the city of Vienna. So we went to Le Loft, the restaurant on the 18th floor of the Sofitel Hotel. The Alsatian inspired restaurant is a hotspot for lovers of gourmet food thanks to the kitchen concepts of French chef Antoine Westermann. With his numerous awards, including three Michelin stars, he is considered one of the most celebrated chefs in France. An absolute highlight is the floor to ceiling windows. From this slightly different Vienna restaurant you can enjoy an unprecedented view of Vienna, with Stephansdom right at your fingertips.
St. Stephen's Cathedral (Stephansdom) is the mother church of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Vienna and the seat of the Archbishop of Vienna, The current Romanesque and Gothic form of the cathedral, seen today in the Stephansplatz, was largely initiated by Duke Rudolf IV (1339–1365) and stands on the ruins of two earlier churches, the first a parish church consecrated in 1147. The most important religious building in Austria's capital, St. Stephen's Cathedral has borne witness to many important events in that nation's history and has, with its multi-coloured tile roof, become one of the city's most recognizable symbols. By the middle of the 12th century, Vienna had become an important center of German civilisation in eastern Europe, and the four existing churches, including only one parish church, no longer met the town's religious needs. Excavations for a heating system in 2000 revealed graves 2.5 meters below the surface, which were carbon-dated to the 4th century indicating a church from that era was present from ancient times. The church was dedicated to St. Stephen, who was also the patron of the bishop's cathedral in Passau, and was oriented toward the sunrise on his feast day of 26 December, as the position stood in the year that construction began.
The Kunsthistorisches Museum has a truly amazing collection of paintings and I thought I would highlight some of the artists in separate posts. Giuseppe Arcimboldo (also spelled Arcimboldi; 1527-1593) was an Italian painter best known for creating imaginative portrait heads made entirely of such objects as fruits, vegetables, flowers, fish, and books – that is, he painted representations of these objects on the canvas arranged in such a way that the whole collection of objects formed a recognizable likeness of the portrait subject. Arcimboldo had been a court painter in Vienna for Maximilian II and in Prague for Rudolf II since 1562. In 1563 he began painting his famous collection of the four seasons and the four elements (Earth, Water, Fire and Air), which were presented to Maximilian II on New Year’s Day 1569. While these funky portraits might have gotten most portrait painters executed or at least banished, the Hapsburgs loved them. Arcimboldo was as much a court jester as a painter, the paintings are full of puns, for instance, the ear of Summer is an ear of corn, his nose is a pickle and the date of the painting and signature of Arcimboldo are woven into the straw garment of Summer.
Benvenuto Cellini was one of the enigmatic, larger-than-life figures of the Italian Renaissance: a celebrated sculptor, goldsmith, author and soldier, but also a hooligan and even avenging killer. Much of Cellini's notoriety, and perhaps even fame, derives from his memoirs, begun in 1558 and abandoned in 1562, which were published posthumously under the title “The Autobiography of Benvenuto Cellini”. As noted by one biographer, “His amours and hatreds, his passions and delights, his love of the sumptuous and the exquisite in art, his self-applause and self-assertion, make this one of the most singular and fascinating books in existence.” He confessed to three murders and was several times imprisoned, in one instance breaking out of the Castel Sant'Angelo in Rome by climbing down a homemade rope of knotted bedsheets.