Episode 303 – A Beautiful View

We’ve been seeing a pattern: every gorgeous palace complex we visit seems to have a building called the Belvedere – so I finally had to find out why.

Loved it !!

The Miriam Webster on-line dictionary solved my problem. “Belvedere is the ideal term for a building (or part of a building) with a view; it derives from two Italian words, bel, which means “beautiful,” and vedere, which means “view.” The term has been used in English since the 1570s.

Today we chose to visit the “Upper” Belvedere, the Baroque Hapsburg palace containing 800 years of art history, with masterpieces by Klimt, Schiele, Rodin and van Gogh. This Schloss (palace) was built between 1717 and 1723, and not really used too much until Maria Theresa and her son Emperor Joseph II decided to move the Imperial Picture Gallery into it and create a museum accessible to the general public. Many of those paintings were moved again to the huge Kunsthistorisches Museum that is part of the Hofburg palace complex in the centre of the city. For a while at the turn of the 19th to 20th centuries the Upper Belvedere was home to Archduke Franz Ferdinand. When the Archduke was assassinated in 1918 (triggering WWI and coinciding with the end of Hapsburg rule), the Belvedere was nationalized, and it continues as an art museum to this day.

The “back yards” of the palaces are always the most beautiful. In this case, the Baroque style gardens favour art over nature, so there are no trees to cast shadows on the statues or drop leaves in the pool, the grass is manicured and trimmed into designs, and flowers are carefully restricted to a few beds.
Someone REALLY liked Sphinxes. There are dozens of them along the garden walkways.
This whimsical fountain with the mermaid spewing water was one of my favourites. Given the themes of some of the other fountains and statues, I have to hope she’s not been drowned.
Why is this man punching the other? Why is Pan gleefully watching while the Satyr is being killed? And why is this man wrestling a komodo dragon, who is spewing water – or maybe venom? WHY?
Once inside the Schloss, the view through the second floor window gave us an idea of not only the garden’s master plan, but also what an incredible location the palace had in the city.

But now it was time to go inside. This is, after all, a world class art gallery.

What drew me (“us”) here was the gallery full of Gustav Klimt paintings, but there is so much more.

Before even reaching the grand staircase to the main exhibits, we were dwarfed by huge marble statues.

We first entered the “summer society room”, where the frescoes show the transformation from day to night, featuring Diana, Apollo , and Aurora. On the walls are scenes from Ovid’s Metamorphosis. What struck me was the fact that everything that looks so three dimensional is all trompe l’oeil.

The very modern yellow art installation on the floor of the Summer Society Room is called “Sleeping Elephant”.

The first set of exhibits dated to the Middle Ages, and all had Austrian provenance.

These incredible “winged altars”, so named because they open like wings, are carved inside and painted outside. They date to the 1400s.
In the left hand photo are two restored wood panels, and one not yet completed. The photo on the right shows the underlying outlines that will be used to restore the colour and detail.
Three fully restored panels, with the one I’m standing beside still in its worn/damaged state. The size, and the vibrant colours, really make an impression.
Two 14th century Madonnas, salvaged from Austrian monasteries. The one on the left is sandstone. The one on the right is poplar. Both still have remnants of the original pigments used to colourize them.

Today we saw our second of the 5 existing “Napoleon Crossing the Alps” paintings. The other we saw this summer was at Charlottenburg, Episode 291 , where Napoleon was on a chestnut horse. The version here in Vienna has him astride a gray.

Once again, the photo on the left is for size perspective. I am NOT that small!

Some of my favourite paintings are those where the brush strokes are so fine that the results are almost photographic, despite having been painted hundreds of years ago. Individual hairs, skin textures, and the gleam of an eye (or in an emerald) are fascinating to me.

Portrait of Maria Lorenz by Karl Friedrich Gsur, Austria, 1939.
Self Portrait, Johann Baptiste von Lampi,, Austria/Italy, 1828
The Family of Count Nikolaus Pálffy of Erdöd, by Martin van Meytens, 1760

Some of my other favourites are because of the memories they evoke. On our 2018 river cruise from Paris to Normandy, we stopped in Auvers-sur-Oise at the house in which Van Gogh lived, and in Givenchy where Claude Monet painted. Episode 6.3 France

Left: The Plain of Auvers, Vincent Van Gogh, 1890. Right: Path in Monet’s Garden in Giverny, Claude Monet, 1902.

What I never intentionally go to see in an art gallery is Edvard Munch. It’s to the point that just hearing his name depresses me. And yet… my immediate reaction to this picture was how well he captured Ed Sheeran and Paul McCartney in this portrait from 1897. (Actually the painter Paul Hermann and the physician Paul Contard.)

You see it too, right?

And then….the Klimt exhibit. Ted does not totally understand why I am so drawn to Klimt’s work, but there is something about the way he uses paint to simulate mosaic and découpage/collage effects, and then adds the hints of gold leaf and other metallic elements, that I find mesmerizing.

L to R: Judith (1901), Adam and Eve (1917/18), and Girlfriends I (Sisters) (1907)
L: Sunflower (1907/08). R: Portrait of Fritza Riedler (1906)
The Kiss (1907/08)
In a true sign of how up-to-date this art museum is, patrons could scan a QR code to get their very own NFT (Non Fungible Token) of The Kiss.

The last space we were able to peek into was the palace chapel, which is closed to the public but visible through a second floor interior window.

In addition to the (too crowded for a good photo while we were there) Marble Hall, the chapel is the only other 2-story space in the castle.

If all this art and splendour isn’t enough, there is also a Lower Belvedere, the “Garten Palais” (garden palace). It was built between 1712 and 1718, as a garden complex/cityscape and is perhaps famous for being the place that housed royal family fleeing from the French Revolution. It, too, is now an art gallery – just not the one we chose to tour.

The orange-roofed Lower Belvedere, seen from 3 vantage points.

Looking at all that art and gawking at all that architecture had us ready for a quick coffee break at the Schloss Café, where we each enjoyed a Viennese Mélange, akin to a cappuccino but made with a slightly less dark roast than espresso. Note there are no pictures of cake …. because, uncharacteristically, we didn’t have any.

Ted and a young Kaiser Franz Josef I both waiting patiently for the mélange, which always arrives with a palate-cleansing glass of water to be drunk afterwards.

After our coffee break, we took some time to explore the “front” yard of the Belvedere.

There was quite a breeze today. Without it, I imagine the reflection of the Schloss in the pool would be breathtaking.
Don’t those gates look welcoming? I certainly wanted to be let in, despite the guardian lions.

Taking all those pictures and strolling back to the street meant we’d gone ANOTHER hour without cake.

Frau Thimm, from whom we rented our Berlin apartment, highly recommended Café Prückel across from the Vienna City Park, so we hopped a #2 streetcar and then walked several blocks to the café, thus “earning” our Kuchen.

Top: That’s an apple cake with a layer of POPPYSEED (soooooooo good), enjoyed with an Aperol Spritz
Centre: Ted’s apple strudel, accompanied by a “verlängerter” (“elongated” coffee – basically an Americano, but with a careful 1:1 ratio of espresso:hot water – over ice cubes.
Bottom: the logo from the café’s menu.

Another cake tasted. Another palace explored. Another wonderful day in Europe enjoyed.

3 comments

  1. Why am I always so enamored by your (or Ted’s) food pics!? Lovely palace too. 🙂 So glad you and Ted are enjoying Vienna. We shall return one day as well.

    Liked by 1 person

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