Episode 363 – Vienna Day 1: Art & Christmas Markets

Warning: Way Too Many Pictures of Art

We’ve been so pleased on this river cruise that Viking has offered ad hoc options for its included tours: hiking into town instead of taking the bus, a gentle option for those less mobile, the Jewish extension in Regensburg, and now a “close up” option in Vienna that replaced the panoramic bus portion of the tour with a metro transit ticket into the city with our guide.

Ted and I took advantage of the U-Bahn ride into the city centre, and then immediately said goodbye to our guide and headed out on our own.

Because we had just spent 2 weeks living here in August, we didn’t need the tour, but I did have a priority: the Kunsthistorisches Museum (the Hapsburg art and culture museum that is the twin to the Natural History Museum we enjoyed so much Episode 305.)

The museum partially obscured by the Christmas Market (one of 20 in Vienna), which was set to open at noon.

The museum is filled with art that the Habsburgs collected over a 600-year span: everything from religious themes, to crystal, to clocks and automatons, to exotica from around the world, to paintings…

… and then the interior of the building itself is a work of art.

A selection of pillars and ceiling decorations from the museum’s 37 galleries.

Gallery 19 and its spectacular ceiling fresco . When the museum opened in 1891, this central gallery was designed to impress visitors with the importance of the Habsburgs as patrons of the arts. The ceiling painting by Julius Victor Berger celebrates exceptional patrons of the family, in the company of their most important artists and surrounded by objects from the museum’s holdings.

Reversible chess and backgammon board from the first half of the 14th century, in wood with jasper, bone, agate, chalcedony, painted clay reliefs and miniatures under rock crystal.

This winged altarpiece documented from the German workshop of Heinrich Füllmaurer in 1536 has more pictures in it than any other contemporary artwork. It was commissioned for a Protestant church prior to the Reformation and iconoclasm. It reminded me of the Classic Comics that kids read in the 1960’s.

Stunning heavy rock crystal decanter commissioned by the Habsburgs from the Miseroni family in Prague, late 16th century.

Among the many exotic items made of tortoise shell, horns, bone, coral and more, these turned (on a lathe) and delicately carved ivory vessels from the 17th century were some of the most beautiful.

Painted and gilded limewood Madonna and Child, made in Würzburg around 1500

This marble relief Madonna and Child made in Florence around 1465, in a gilded frame added in 1620 attests to the reach of the Habsburgs into what is now Italy.

Painted wood, iron, linen and silk brocade Cittern Player automaton made in Spain in the late 16th century. the Habsburgs were also rulers in Spain for a while.

These seemingly innocent playing cupids made in Ulm around 1520 are actually supposed to reflect the erotic passions of adults. notice that the cupid on the left appears to have a devil’s tail.

Some of a set pf 12 gilded silver, mother-of-pearl, emerald and ruby-encrusted lidded cups made in 1595 in Nürnberg and presented in 1600 by Duke William V of Bavaria to his daughter Maria Anna on the occasion of her marriage to the future Emperor Ferdinand II, attesting to the close family ties between the Wittelsbach and Habsburg dynasties.

A gold, ebony, ivory and enamel “saliera” (container for salt and pepper) made by famous Florentine artist Benvenuto Cellini in Paris in 1540.

An ornamental basin and ewer made of triton, giant clam and scallop shells with gilded silver by Abraham Pfleger of Augsburg in 1590.

One of a collection of South Tyrolean glazed ceramic “joke vessels” made by master potter Cristoph Gandtner around 1580. The potter also created objects for Emperor Rudolph II.

Clock with wooden and painted paper case inside gilded brass, tin and iron, made by Hans Kiening from Füssen im Allgäu around 1577.

A lapis lazuli platter and teapot made in Prague in the late 16th century.

L to R in top photo: King Charles II of Spain, Emperor Joseph I, Emperor Leopold I, Empress Eleanora, Archduke Charles.
These marble busts of the family of Emperor Leopold 1 by Paul Strudel of Vienna, sculpted in 1695, clearly show the males with the “Hapsburg jaw” that was a trait resulting from centuries of inbreeding. I can only guess that Empress Eleanora was chosen partially to help mitigate the trait, but little Crown Prince (bottom right – the future Emperor Karl VI), already shows signs of the characteristic jawline.

Painted wax and wood bust of Emperor Ferdinand III, made in Vienna aro 1643. Look at that jawline!

Having completed 2/3 of the first floor of galleries (we skipped the Asian and Egyptian collects – another reason to return!), we were ready for a mid-day coffee break.

“Lunch” was a pastry chef’s work of art in the museum’s first floor rotunda: Mohn torte (poppy seed torte), and Mozart torte ( chocolate sponge, chocolate buttercream, pistachio mousse, and marzipan icing). In Vienna, cake simply cannot be eaten without good coffee: two Viennese Mélanges.

Next it was up the imposing central marble staircase to the painting galleries.

Almost any European artist you’ve heard of that painted in the 15th to 18th centuries is represented here.

This is typical of what the galleries look like, with velvet seating to allow contemplation of the masterpieces.

One of Ted’s favourites, for the theme. By Otto van Veen, Antwerp. Artists certainly did not shy away from nudity, especially if they could use mythology of classic literature as an excuse.

My favourite painting in the gallery, for the way the light plays on the model’s book and on the floor. Mesmerizing. Johannes Vermeer, The Art of Painting, 1666.

The Goldsmith, by Jan Zvan Eyck, Bruges, 1436.

Jane Seymour, painted by Hans Holbein the Younger in 1536.

The Tower of Babel, by Pieter Bruegel, 1563.

Madonna of the Rosary, by Caravaggio, 1603.

Madonnaxwith Child and Saints, by Titian, 1520

Infanta Margarita in a blue dress, by Diego Velázquez, 1659.

Ecce Homo., by Titian, 1543. The artist’s signature appears on the staircase. The double eagle shield is homage to the Habsburg imperial court, whose official painter Titian became in 1533.

Definitely the strangest paintings in the Habsburg collection, given that they were painted in 1563 and 1566 respectively . Left is “Summer”, and right is “Water”, both by Giuseppe Archimboldo, who painted in Vienna, Prague, and Milan.

After all that art, it was time to head out into the slightly cold air and take in a couple of the earliest opening Christmas markets (which don’t usually start until the first Sunday in Advent).

The market in the museum square was absolutely charming, and really got us excited about next year’s Christmas market cruise from Amsterdam to Basel.

Top centre: CHEESE! the incredible colours are all natural, derived from things like pesto, chilies, lavender, sundried tomatoes, and truffles.

From the museums, we walked to the Kärntner Ring and Stefansdom (St Stephen’s Cathedral), past Christmas “wrapped” stores, to the cathedral square Christmas market.

We were happy to return to the ship for a drink and cookies, and to relax before a delicious Wiener schnitzel dinner. our cruise is almost over, although we’ll have an extension in Prague after we disembark in Budapest. Our time spent with Viking always seems to fly by too fast.

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