Art and Artistry in Vienna

We moved much more quickly through the last few countries in our grand adventure during the last six weeks. This had the unfortunate effect of making me less focused on writing. There’s a lot to share about our last few stops, though. So let’s talk a little about Austria.

First up: Vienna, a big, beautiful, extravaganza of a city.  There is a lot to see and do here – most of it involving the lavish lifestyle of the Habsburgs and the eating of sausages – but there were also a few surprises. Our only complaint was that we found ourselves shoulder to shoulder with more of our fellow tourists than we’d seen in a while. As soon as June rolled in so did the tour groups. We’re not in the off-season anymore, Toto.

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We had grown accustomed to having the cathedrals mostly to ourselves. St. Stephen’s was swarming. Photo by Tricia.

A Tribute to Great Design
Our first surprise was the MAK Museum of Applied Arts, which houses permanent collections of works across many design fields, like glass, textiles, furniture, photography, book binding, and even poster art. We spent several hours here, pointing at stuff and saying, “Wow.”

The big draw at the MAK is the preparation prints that Gustav Klimt made for his most popular friezes.

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It was wonderful to see the pencil work for the later masterpiece. Photo by Tricia.

While walking around I was reminded of the importance of letting myself just witness the art, rather than documenting the fact that I’d seen it. For a good two-thirds of the time we were in the museum I had my camera in my hand, snapping pictures of the stuff I liked. And then I caught this scene:

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A tale of two lenses. The artist with all the name recognition gets the cameras, the one with less recognition gets the eyeballs. Photo by Tricia.

Everyone who came into this room immediately took pictures of the Gustav Klimt pieces, including me. His work is marvelous, absolutely. But so was the Margaret MacDonald Mackintosh piece next to Klimt’s, and it didn’t get nearly so many people taking pictures.

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Detail of the Margaret MacDonald Mackintosh painting that was exhibited beside Gustav Klimt. Photo by Tricia.

What do you think, dear reader? Should we take pictures of the art we like or let our memories, imperfect as they are, do all the heavy lifting?

The Royal Art Collection
The Habsburgs. What a family. They ruled the Holy Roman Empire for upwards of 600 years, starting in 1438. By the time Franz Joseph I took the throne in 1848 the family had amassed so much art that he had two palatial buildings constructed just to hold it all. The Kunsthistorisches Museum is still the largest museum in Austria, and it does not disappoint. Even the architecture is stunning:

Detail of a ceiling in the Kunsthistorisches Museum. Photo by Ryan.
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A staircase leading to the rooms full of art. Photo by Tricia.

There is a lot of finery in this museum, including a magnificent coin collection and a bunch of old Roman sculptures pilfered from Ephesus. Our favorite was the Arms & Armor exhibit, though. Hundreds of years of craftsmanship are on display, much of it ceremonial rather than practical, but all of it exquisite.

Hilt of the sacred sword of Ferdinand II. Photo by Ryan.
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Elaborate horse armor. Notice the tail emerges from a dragon’s mouth. Photo by Tricia.

The Hofburg Palace
A trip to Vienna is not complete without visiting the two main palaces the Habsburg’s used during their long reign. The Hofburg was their winter residence, where you can tour the Imperial Apartments and gawk at all the royal jewels and crowns.

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It’s not really an empire until you can have your own crown made. Yes, this is a “personal crown” made in 1602 for Rudolf II. Photo by Tricia.
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There is a huge collection of royal robes on display. The artistry in them is beautiful. Photo by Ryan.

The Imperial Apartments are accessed via an audio tour. No photography is allowed in those halls, so you’ll have to go yourself to see it all. The rooms of Empress Elizabeth were especially fun for me. Ryan wasn’t as big a fan, but I loved how she bucked convention and had work out equipment installed in her rooms so that she could exercise. It was quite the scandal at the time.

The Schonbrunn Palace
The Habsburg’s summer palace, Schonbrunn, is only an hour walk away from the winter palace. This is what happens when you have more money than you know what to do with, I guess.

Photos are strictly prohibited inside the palace, which is a shame. It’s beautiful in there. I was especially moved by the room where Mozart gave his first performance at the age of ten to Maria Theresa. The guides say that the prohibition against photos helps move the crowds along rather than being for any conservation purposes.

We’ll have to make do with photos from the outside.

Exterior of the Schonbrunn Palace in Vienna. This was the royal family’s summer residence. Photo by Ryan.
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A small section of the gardens, which are massive. Photo by Tricia.
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The Imperial backyard. The palace had a staff of 1,500 people to maintain it and cater to the needs of the royals. Photo by Tricia.

It’s worth getting advance tickets to the Schonbrunn, as entry is timed and it’s very popular. We spent most of the day walking around inside and outside the palace grounds.

Vienna is a marvelous city. We were quite struck with the beauty and grandeur of it all. Our next stop was Salzburg, which was a great access point to a castle and an ice cave. That’ll be the subject of our next post!

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