The museum of art history. That sounds boring - but the opposite couldn't be more true.
18.04.2014 - 18.04.2014
Today we visited the Kunsthistorisches museum. Wow. It was mind-blowing.
The museum itself was built during the reign of emperor Franz Joseph to house the art and artifact collections of the emperors and archdukes of the House of Hapsburg, which was gathered over the course of centuries. It claims to be one of the most important museums in the world, and with its breathtaking art and treasures that span from antiquity to the modern era, I believe it. But it is not just the collection (I'll get to that in a sec) that makes this museum so awesome. It's the building itself - stately, classical architecture, the insides built out of coloured marbles and carved stone, elaborated with gold plate, carvings and floor-to-ceiling paintings. The showpiece of the building is the cupola hall which was made using precious metals, marbles, with its columns, arcades and a mosaic floor. (Note - I didn't take these photos. No pics allowed inside, so I've "borrowed" these. Photo credit to the KHM and Marcel Macasso)
Back to the art. The gallery (one of four sections) is made up of 28 massive rooms that house masterpieces from the 15th to 19th century. Among these are Bruegel's Peasant Wedding, Tower of Babel and the largest collection of his work in the world, Vermeer, Raffael, Velasquez's infantina, Rembrandt, and the list goes on.... Other wings of the museum house Egyptian, Ancient Greek and roman artifacts, as well as the coin collection (one of the five largest in the world, with monies dating as far back as 140 bc). I didn't have time to visit the collections from antiquity; I also know there is an Egyptian museum in Berlin that I can hit if I need a fix on this trip. Zadie and I spent most of our time in the galleries, and briefly checked out the coin collection.
I realized something today. The older i get, the more i appreciate art. But the more I appreciate art, the more i realize how little I know about history. So many of the paintings, commissioned for King this or Emperor that, or one of their heirs, cousins, foes, or depicting images of the same, leave me wondering about their lives, how they fit in to the lives of the other monarchs, and what they contributed to modern civilization. Scenes from Greek mythology and the bible are nice to look at, but I know they'd be ten times more interesting if I knew the stories they depict. I especially want to know the relationships of the monarchs who ruled Europe from 1500 until they fell around the turn of the 20th century. They intermarried, married daughters to neighbouring princes, cousins to peacefully expand their reign. A family tree would be amazing, but with 16 children per family not being uncommon, and the crossovers that took place, it would be more of an indecipherable massive, zig-zagging family web. Mom was fascinated and well read on the topic of western civilization. She would plow through one book after another about the ruling families, peasant life in France, or the guilds as they emerged in England, then could rattle on about how they lived and what they contributed to our life today. I didn't used to get it. Now I understand her fascination - and share it. Can anyone recommend any good books on this broad range of topics?
So yes, Zadie and I spent the late morning in the museum, while Dan zipped around Vienna scoping out the best patio for lunch. In keeping with our theme, today's venue was in the massive courtyard of Museums Quartier. It is a hip and laid back massive square behind the old imperial stables, with ample seating (huge two-to-four person plastic loungers - see photo), fantastic food, open air bars and live music, surrounded by... museums. It was sunny and hot. People were friendly and smiling. It was so pleasant it felt surreal, kind of like an urban utopia.
The mercury is supposed to stay in the high teens and low twenties through the weekend, so we made a plan at lunch to prioritize outdoor activities. Tomorrow the imperial hunting grounds, Sunday the Donau Insel and Prater.