Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien - Part II
I advise visitors of the Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien to divide their attention wisely between the numerous galleries. A very course division would run between the ground floor galleries of Egyptian, Near- and Middle Eastern, Greek and Roman art alongside with sculpture (including the previously mentioned Saliera) - and the "Gemäldegalerie" or "painting gallery" on the first floor. The difference between the two floors is so drastic that it gives you the feel of a two-for-one museum.
The Egyptian and Near Eastern art was gathered in territories that never belonged to the Habsburgs, which is a bit of an oddity for the KHM - the exhibition starts with the Egyptian Death Cult and includes many exciting objects, but apart from the Papyri collection, this part is inferior to the British Museum and probably the museum of Cairo (I've never been there, so that's actually a guess).
The Roman collection was gathered by the Habsburgs on their own territory - strangely enough, this includes some pieces of Roman art that were found on lands still belonging to Austria, such as the "Youth of Mount Magdalensberg" found in Carinthia. Unfortunately, researchers discovered in 1983 that the statue was actually a replica from the 16th century. Bad luck. The mosaic from nearby Salzburg is real, though, and a fine example of Roman craftsmanship. All in all, the collection of Greek and Roman art is more outstanding than the Egyptian one and allows an interesting insight to the close alliance of Italian and Austrian art dating back to Antiquity.
From Wunderkammer to Modern Museum
In fact, Romano-Celtic reign in the lands of today's Austria out-dated the collapse of the Roman Empire significantly, a fact that is well-documented in the collection of the KHM. Finally, the section on sculpture and decorative arts focuses on a key interest of the Habsburg's sense of art. Many of the objects on display are part of the collection since the days of Renaissance "Wunderkammern" ("chambers of miracles"), the ancestors of modern museums. Two of the most outstanding Germanic collections of this kind were acquired in places that are now part of Austria, Archduke Ferdinand's collection from Innsbruck and the collection of the Prince Archbishop of Salzburg (partly in the Dommuseum there).
A third collection, the one of Emperor Rudolf II, was originally in Prague, but - as mentioned above - became a founding element of the KHM alongside with Ferdinand II's Wunderkammer from Schloss Ambras. The collection includes impressive objects made from vast amounts of gold, precious and semi-precious stones and natural materials such as pearls or ivory. They reflect the peculiar taste of Renaissance and Baroque rulers with their interest in pretty much anything.
Don't miss out on the famous Saliera in Room XXVII. It is worth learning more about its mad creator, Benvenuto Cellini, and the story of its dis- and reappearance a few years ago. The burglar who stole this masterpiece back then has become a bit of a media star and national hero. Austria is a strange place. Nonetheless, of the ground floor gallery, I think the rooms dedicated to sculpture and decorative arts are the most charming ones - for the sake of the "Wunderkammers", which I find fascinating (just like the whole concept of arts and sciences of Renaissance rulers).
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