Maria Theresa and the Arts
Curated by Georg Lechner
Lower Belvedere, Vienna
30 June to 5 November 2017
We visit the Belvedere, a Habsburg palace turned museum.
First we go to see the medieval treasures in the palace stables, because this part of the museum closes at noon. There are statues, paintings, altarpieces. We see familiar scenes from the life of Christ, Mary and the saints, Saint Ursula among them. Some of the artists are known by name (say, Konrad von Friesach), others by title only (the Master of Laufen, for one) or not known at all. It is an invaluable legacy.
Then on to the Orangery, an exhibition space, to see Klimt and Antiquity: Erotic Encounters, much of which was taken up with the artist’s erotic drawings for a deluxe edition (released in 1907) of Lucian’s Dialogues of the Courtesans by Lucian. High-class porn for rich perverts, that is the impression you got. There was plenty of fine art in the exhibition too, mind, but at the end I didn’t get the sense of there being any coherent, overarching thesis.
Maria Theresa and the Arts, the main exhibition in the Lower Belvedere, had portraits of the Habsburg queen and, overall, it traced the fruits of her patronage. I enjoyed many of the paintings and sculptures here, somewhat to my surprise, not least Jean-Baptiste Pillement’s Rocky Landscape with Rope Bridge (1763) . I am sure that Stewart Lee, he of ‘jungle canyon rope bridge’ fame, would have been even more enamoured than I was. He might have experienced a frission of recognition, even.
Next a pleasant walk through the palace gardens, the Autumn sun resplendent, to the Upper Belvedere and a re-acquaintance with some old favourites. There were the many paintings of the Vienna woods: works by Ferdinand Waldmüller, Emil Jakob Schindler, Tina Blau and the rest. There was Josef Danhauser’s Die Schachpartie, the white king having just been checkmated by an advance of the g-pawn (the relevant details of the final positionbeing: W: Kh1, B: Kh3, Nf3, pawn on g2). There were Caspar David Friedrich’s enigmatic landscapes (six in total here). And on the top floor there were masterpieces by Klimt, Schiele, Kokoschka, etc.