THE principal collection of paintings in Vienna is the property of the Emperor of Austria, and housed in a magnificent building erected by Emperor Francis Joseph.
The earliest beginning of this Imperial collection was under the Emperor Charles IV, the art-loving Luxemburg-Bohemian monarch who ruled in the middle of the 14th century. Other portions of the collection reach back to the time of Emperor Maximilian I, at the end of the 15th century. Several family portraits now in the museum were painted by his orders.
In the time of Emperor Ferdinand I there was a Kunstkammer in Vienna, but at his death in 1564 the paintings were inherited by the archdukes Ferdinand and Karl, and transferred to Innsbruck, Graz, and Ambrass, to be returned, centuries later, to Vienna.
During the reign of Emperor Maximilian II (1564-1576) a second Kunstkammer was started in the Vienna Hofburg, which was further enriched by his son Rudolph II. Among the additions made by Rudolph is the famous Rosenkranz Altar-piece, by Dürer, which came from Venice in 1602. He obtained also in Spain paintings by Correggio, the ” Io ” and the ” Ganymede,” still in Vienna, and the ” Leda,” now in Berlin. Karel van Mander, in his ” Schildersboek,” already called Rudolph a Breughel-collector, but the Emperor also acquired works by Lange-Pier, Patinir, Massys, Pordenone, Giovanni Bellini, Raphael, Titian, Caravaggio, Dürer, and others. When the Court moved to Prague the Imperial collection of paintings was taken thither, and during the disturbances of the Thirty Years War, when the city was plundered by the Swedes in 1648, over five hundred of the pictures were carried away as booty.
The collection, thus sadly depleted, came next into the possession of the art loving Archduke Leopold Wilhelm, who from 1647 until 1656 had been Governor of the Southern, or Austrian, Netherlands. Even before his departure for Brussels this prince had already bought paintings in Venice, and surrounded himself in Vienna with local artists, among whom Franz Leux, although a mediocre painter, was still the most prominent. As soon as Leopold was settled in Brussels he took David Teniers, the Younger, as his court-painter and adviser, while many other Flemings, including Gonzales Coques, the two van den Hoecke, Peter Snayers, and Erasmus Quellinus, were drawn around him.
The indefatigable collector had soon an opportunity to add to his collection, for in 1648 the sale took place in Antwerp of the famous Buckingham collection, of which, old records tell us, the Archduke bought the greatest part. Among the paintings thus acquired were the Bassanos, three by Rubens, two by Guido Reni, Titian’s ” Ecce Homo,” and many others. Another addition was made at the sale of the collection of King Charles I, which took place after 1649, when works by Franciabigio, Palma Vecchio, Parmigianino, Giulio Romano, and others were acquired.
The Archduke possessed in Brussels over thirteen hundred paintings, the importance of which is indicated by the famous Theatrum Pieta–rum, which appeared in 1660, a work prepared by Teniers, in which two hundred and twenty-three paintings, including forty Titians, are represented.
Another result of Teniers’ connection with the Archduke’s collection are the paintings which Teniers made of the Archducal gallery, in which the pictures, in miniature, are seen hanging on the walls. Leopold loved to have these so-called ” Painted Galleries made to send to friendly Courts as gifts. They give a clear idea of the treasures of this early collection. Thus we see in the principal one, now in the Munich Pinakothek, the Archduke himself portrayed, while the so-called ” Cherry Madonna,” by Titian, and paintings by Feti, Giorgione, and Paolo Caliari are being shown to him. Another one of these Painted Galleries is now in the Imperial Museum.
When Leopold returned to Vienna in 1658 he brought all his pictures with him, and the catalogue then made enumerated five hundred and seventeen Italian paintings and eight hundred and eighty of German and Netherland masters, of whom the Flemish naturally were in the vast majority. This is the reason that in no collection in Europe are the Flemish painters, even those of second and third rank, so substantially represented as in the Imperial Museum at Vienna. The entire collection passed, at Leopold Wilhelm’s death, in 1662, to the Emperor Leopold.
In the next generation, notably under Charles VI, a large number of 18th century Vienna artists contributed their work to the Imperial collection.
Under Maria Theresia the collection suffered severe losses when more than one hundred valuable paintings from the Prague gallery were transferred to the King of Saxony to make up the indemnity imposed for the Silesian war. The Dresden Gallery owes many of its most important possessions to this occurrence. Another inroad was made in 1753, when the Empress ordered the paintings of the nude to be removed from the collection and sold. But about this time the presence in Vienna of the Italian Canaletto and the Geneva artist Liotard added important works.
About 1772 the influence of the great connoisseur, Prince Kaunitz, was exerted to bring the Imperial collections together in a worthy home, for which the summer palace of Prince Eugene of Savoy, called the Belvedere, was designated. The transfer, under direction of the curator Josef Rosa, took place in May and June, 1776. The next year a large purchase was made in the Netherlands of Rubens’ paintings, now forming one of the priceless sections of the Museum. The occasion was the sequestration and sale of the effects of the Jesuit Order in the Southern Netherlands. Over fifty paintings, including many of the large Rubens’ from the Jesuit Church of Antwerp, and from their colleges in Brussels, Namur, Aloist, Bruges, and Mecheln, were purchased for the paltry sum of forty thousand florins.
In 1806 the famous so-called Ambrasser collection was added to the Imperial Gallery, and displayed in the Lower Belvedere, a building at the foot of the terraces facing the higher castle. This collection, consisting principally of arms, but with a large number of paintings of small size and some of larger dimensions, had been made by the Archduke Ferdinand of Tyrol (1529-1595), and gathered in his castle at Ambrass, a few miles from Innsbruck. Among the more valuable paintings were Raphael’s ” Madonna of the Meadow,” Moretto’s ” Justina,” and many Carracci. There were three hundred and forty paintings, all told, to enrich the Imperial collection.
The French wars of the early 19th century made sad commotion in the Belvedere. The paintings . were packed and sent down the Danube. Still, many had to be left behind to fall into the hands of the French when they entered Vienna. These were shipped to Paris, and not all were returned at the Restoration.
During the past century constant purchases have been made. In 1816 there were fourteen paintings acquired in Venice, among these the magnificent Cima de Conegliano. In the thirties an addition was made of over a hundred paintings, principally of contemporary Viennese artists.
In the scheme for the beautifying of Vienna, which Emperor Francis Joseph originated, the building of worthy homes for the Imperial collections was included. A beginning of this was made in 1872, and after long delay the Museum on the Ring Strasse received the entire Imperial collection of paintings, which were well hung, and have been catalogued with considerable scholarly acumen.
The Collection of the Akademie der Bildenden Künste, the Academy of Fine Arts, had its origin in the 18th century. It contains many paintings gathered in Venice from now demolished churches and frater-houses; even from the Doge’s Palace have canvases come to enrich the collection. Famous old Flemings and Dutchmen represent their respective schools, notably by the wealth of colour of their paintings of still life. A few, Spaniards, an excellent Murillo, a Carreño, and a few Frenchmen may be added, while a complete survey of Vienna artists of the 18th and 19th centuries may be had.
The first acquisitions were made in 1731, when the annual prize pictures of the Academy were acquired, many of which are still shown. In 1750 a beginning was made with the collecting of the paintings that had to be donated by new members of the Academy. The Empress Maria Theresia, besides giving some paintings, established a fund the interest of which produced the means for the purchase of paintings to this day.
The most important addition was the famous collection of some eight hundred paintings brought together by Count Anton Lamberg-Sprinzenstein, a noted collector, who in the last years of the 18th century gathered a magnificent collection of Italian and Dutch paintings. After his death in 1822 some dispute arose whether the Imperial Gallery or the Academy should be the legatee, which question was at last in 1824 decided in favour of the latter, but not until 1835 was the collection placed on exhibition. The Lamberg collection had already in 1800 a European reputation, as may be seen in Küttner’s Reisen durch Deutschland, published in 1801, in which many of the Dutch paintings belonging to Count Lamberg are regarded as the finest works of the artists.
In 1838 Emperor Ferdinand purchased a collection of Venetian paintings, some of which were placed in his own gallery in the Belvedere, while others, to the number of eighty-eight, were donated to the Academy.
The Academy has always been unfortunate in its exhibition rooms. The collection wandered about from place to place until the present building on the Schiller Platz was completed in 1876. There the twelve hundred paintings cover the walls from floor to ceiling in a series of rooms in the second story of one of the wings, with poor light and the most apologetic hanging arrangement. If the numerous copies and unimportant works were re-moved, some improvement would be made.
The principal private gallery of Vienna is the world-famous Liechtenstein Gallery, the origin of which goes back to the end of the 16th century, but which did not become of special interest until Prince Josef Wenzel, in 1760, added many valuable can-vases. The collection is still housed in- the summer palace, built by Domenico Martinelli in 1703, the grounds of which are now entirely surrounded by the city’s growth. The rooms are decorated with frescoes by Belucci, Franceschini, Andrea Pozzo, and Rothmayr. The present Prince Johann is still frequently adding to his collection of over eight hundred paintings which stands unrivalled among the world’s private galleries.
Some thirty years ago the Liechtenstein gallery was visited by a wave of prudery, and all paintings of nude figures were packed off to be sold at auction in Paris.
The three hundred and fifty pictures which constitute the Count Czernin collection hang together in three large rooms in the Count’s private residence. The collection was founded over one hundred years ago by the great-grandfather of the present Count, and contains several masterpieces.
The founding of the collection of Count von Harrach goes back to the second half of the 17th century, when Count Ferdinand Bonaventura Harrach, Imperial Ambassador at Madrid, acquired the magnificent Spanish paintings which form the nucleus of the collection, and added thereto a score of works which he bought from the early Viennese collector Pilat. In the next century Count Alois added most of the Italian pictures during his residence in Naples; and Count Friedrich Harrach gathered the Dutch section while travelling in the Netherlands. Since the death of Count Johann, in 1829, there have been no important additions made.
The beginning of the 18th century laid the foundation of the collection of Count Schönborn-Buchheim, although few of the paintings enumerated in the first catalogue of 1746 are at present to be found. Later exchanges, the sale of important paintings, and the purchase of new canvases have wrought a great change. At present we find the collection especially rich in Dutch pictures. It fills several of the private apartments of the Count’s palace.
Many of the paintings in the Lower Belvedere are the canvases by the later masters of the 19th century which belonged to the Imperial collection, and were originally hung in the Upper Belvedere. They are principally from the brushes of Viennese artists; but there are a few foreign canvases. Several modern paintings belonging to the Academy, and a number of State purchases have been added, whereby an interesting collection of 19th century art may be seen.