Touring Austria′s Baroque Heritage - Part II

1.) Baroque Palaces in Vienna

Easy, that one: There are two outstanding examples of Baroque Palaces in Vienna, the Schloss Belvedere and Schloss Schönbrunn. Both of them originally had all the features that a palatial theme park of their day and age needed: State apartments, ball rooms, marble halls, mazes, orange tree greenhouses, parks with fountains and follies, a zoo and bird cages, formal gardens, a chapel, a library, carriages and the lot.

The Gloriette in Schönbrunn PalaceNot all elements are still preserved in both places, over-all, Schönbrunn - the Habsburg′s summer palace - is the more complete one, including the Imperial Zoo. The Belvedere, on the other hand, contains the Austrian National Gallery, which has a section dedicated to Baroque fine art. The two palaces also make a good introduction to Austria′s key-architects of the Baroque age: Lukas von Hildebrandt and Johann Bernhard Fischer von Erlach.

With the Emperor residing in Vienna, much of the Empire′s nobility and rich monasteries wanted - or needed - a representative building in the city. Between the late 17th and the late 18th century, dozens of smaller - yet still impressive - palaces popped out. They are called "Palais" and usually display the family′s or monastery′s coat of arms above a mighty portal. The most important ones are the Palais Schwarzenberg and the Palais Liechtenstein, both of which are still owned by the respective families.

The latter one could almost rival the Belvedere, and contains parts of the art collection of the Princes of Liechtenstein in the "Liechtenstein Museum". This again focuses on Baroque paintings. For the "smaller" ones, the Palais Kinsky, Harrach, Schönborn-Battyani, Palffy (the latter ones were the landlords of my hometown), take a stroll in the city centre of Vienna. The area around the Minoritenkirche Church and the Hofburg is particularly rewarding for Palais-hunters.

2.) Baroque Churches & Monasteries in Vienna

By far the most important of the many Baroque churches in Vienna is the Karlskirche: One giant of a church with a cupola that contains extremely impressive frescoes by Johann Michael Rottmayr. It was designed by Fischer von Erlach and over-shadows his rival′s Lukas von Hildebrandt′s Peterskirche Church.

The Peterskirche Church by Lukas von Hildebrandt - in ViennaThe Dominikanerkirche Church is an example of early Baroque, whereas the nearby Jesuitenkirche Church is hardcore-Baroque of the Italian type. The Franziskanerkirche Church is among my favourite of the smaller ones (note the lovely square in front of it).

Those churches in Vienna that were not Baroque in their original layout were "Baroquinised" later on - and sometimes "re-Gothicised" in the 19th century, to make things even worse. The resulting mishmash can be seen in the Augustinerkirche Church, where you can quiz yourself by looking for the Baroque elements that remain in the building. The Bernardikapelle in the Heiligenkreuzerhof is opened only for a few hours every week and a truly hidden gem of gold and marble; if you manage to see that one, you are doing better than most Viennese.

3.) Other Baroque Things in Vienna

Every respectable visitor of Austria′s capital has to go to the MuseumsQuartier nowadays, mostly because of the museums. They are situated in the former Imperial Stables, a Baroque landscape by Fischer von Erlach. Furniture and interiors of the period can be seen in the Hofmobiliendepot.

The Kunsthistorisches holds one of the largest collections of Caravaggio paintingsA must-see attraction is the Kunsthistorisches Museum (Art History Museum - the building itself is historicist) that contains one of the World′s big collections of Baroque (and Renaissance) fine art. The Prunksaal of the National Library inside the Hofburg is famous for its frescos and the adjacent globe museum reflects the Baroque curiosity in the World.

The treasury holds the crown jewels, sacral art and gilded clothing - including many items of the Baroque period. And the Kaisergruft (Imperial Tomb) contains the coffins of a rather large number of Habsburgs, many of which are beautifully crafted. And the Trinity or Plague Column on the Graben is worth a closer look, as much as the Donner fountain on the nearby Neuer Markt.

Go to: Part I - Part II - Part III - Part IV

Further Reading

Biographies of Lukas von Hildebrandt & Fischer von Erlach

Introduction to Austrian Baroque

Suggested Itinerary for Touring Austria

Wikipedia on Baroque

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