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.
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.
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 first set of exhibits dated to the Middle Ages, and all had Austrian provenance.
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.
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.
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
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
After our coffee break, we took some time to explore the “front” yard of the Belvedere.
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.
Another cake tasted. Another palace explored. Another wonderful day in Europe enjoyed.