Enfilade

Exhibition | The Belvedere in Vienna

Posted in anniversaries, exhibitions by Editor on May 13, 2022

Salomon Kleiner, View of the Gardens of The Belvedere, detail, ca. 1731
(Vienna: Bibliothek des Belvedere)

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Opening in December at The Belvedere:

The Belvedere in Vienna: 300 Years a Place of Art
Lower Belvedere, Vienna, 2 December 2022 — 7 January 2024

It took more than a decade to build the summer residence of Vienna’s most famous general, Prince Eugene of Savoy. In 1723, construction of the upper palace drew to a close and the Belvedere estate was finally completed. The 300th anniversary of this event presents the perfect occasion for the museum to reflect on its history. Both as a museum and a landmark building, the Belvedere has stood for power and prestige throughout the ages, serving as the setting for courtly festivities, at times as a royal residence, and as the venue for the signing of the Austrian State Treaty in 1955. In an extensive exhibition, the museum will examine the building’s changing roles.

The show will mark the Belvedere’s 300th-anniversary year of 2023. Presented as a homage to an institution dedicated to the arts throughout the centuries, the exhibition casts a critical eye on historical developments and institutional changes. It illustrates the abundance and diversity of the museum, highlighting the collection’s evolution and the role of the holdings as symbols of power.

In 1777 when Marie Theresa opened the Imperial Picture Gallery in the Upper Belvedere to the public, she made a groundbreaking decision heralding a new age of enlightened absolutism: the collections would no longer be limited to courtly representation but would also serve to educate the general public. The Belvedere thrived during the succeeding centuries as both a place for the arts and a scene for glamorous events such as Marie Antoinette’s wedding. It was also the residence of the heir to the throne Franz Ferdinand, and the site where the Austrian State Treaty was signed. All of which is mirrored in its building and collection history.

The importance of the Belvedere as an art nexus over the centuries is examined in detail based on the rich holdings of the collection: they reflect the institution’s changing thematic concerns. The circulation and transfer of objects—additions and disposals of works from the collection due to museum reforms and barter transactions—provide further clues. This is particularly evident during the period from 1938 to 1945, when the museum was an agent and beneficiary of the Nazi state’s looting and cultural exploitation policy. Numerous works acquired after 1933 have been returned to the rightful heirs of the former owners since the enactment of the Austrian Art Restitution Law in 1998—the most notable example being Klimt’s Woman in Gold in 2006.

The Belvedere gallery and its collections reopened after World War II, once the damaged buildings and gardens were restored to their former glory. In 1955, the Austrian State Treaty was signed in the Upper Belvedere and presented to the public from the palace’s balcony.

The exhibition covers the period from the completion of the upper palace in 1723 to the present day, and illustrates the Belvedere’s role as a museum that honors the past, reflects on the present, and looks toward the future.

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