Schloss Belvedere Palace & Art Museum
Österreichische Galerie Belvedere - Part II
The formal gardens that connect the Lower with the Upper Belvedere are the oldest part of the whole palace and were built around 1700 under the supervision of Dominique Girard. The park and gardens were opened to the general public in 1780 and visitors are still admitted free of charge. The roof of the Upper Belvedere is typical for the style of von Hildebrandt, but here he pushed his designs close to perfection:
The playful shapes are meant to resemble Turkish army tents, thereby recalling the heroic deeds of Prince Eugene (i.e., killing thousands of people really well). The Upper Belvedere was originally meant to be the smaller of the two castles, but then turned into the main building in later stages of the design. When it became the property of the Habsburgs after Eugene′s death, the palace served as an important base for several members of the Royal family. The last Habsburg to formally reside in the Upper Belvedere was Archduke Franz Ferdinand, whose assassination in Sarajevo in 1914 triggered World War I.
On the entrance side of the castle, there is a large, round pond that reflects the building like a mirror, a popular post-card motive. The interiors and surroundings of the Upper Belvedere finally included everything a decent Baroque palace required: A chapel with elaborate frescos by Carlo Innocenzo Carlone; a marble hall and elaborately decorated staircase for welcoming guests at receptions and balls; an extensive library, which later became the seed for the National Library of Austria and is now on display in the Hofburg Palace; a menagerie, sort of an ancestor of modern zoos; and several galleries and representative apartments. That much about the building. Let′s come to the gallery now.
Start with Baroque & Gothic in the Lower Belvedere
A combined ticket will grant you access to the Baroque and Gothic collections in the Lower Belvedere as well as the Biedermeier, Realism, Impressionism, Expressionism and other modern styles in the Upper Belvedere. The one-storey palace of the Lower Belvedere is attached to the orangery and representative stables (horses were a big deal for a military leader like Eugene). It was finished in 1716 and its well-preserved interiors alone would justify a visit.
The core of the building is the central Marble Hall that commemorates Eugen′s heroic victory with decorative Turkish prisoners as part of the wall′s decorations. On the ground, you can see the original lead samples of Georg Raphael Donner′s statues for the fountain on the Neuer Markt in the first district. Look at the frescos on the ceiling: they all aim to glorify Eugene and impress potential visitors and they surely do a good job on both. The frescos, stucco work and marble extravaganza blend into one hell of a Baroque party place.
The side wings on both sides of the Marble Hall are filled with paintings, relieves and other pieces of Baroque art that are all worth a closer look - my personal favourites, however, are the "Charakterköpfe" or "character heads": Marble busts of bizarre grimaces by the weirdo-genius Franz Xaver Messerschmidt (1732 to 1783). Another highlight is the recently renovated Renaissance-style Grotenskensaal Hall with its floral and faunal wall-paintings.
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