Most cities are lucky to have produced one artistic genius. Vienna has supplied the world with hundreds.
Below, we’ll go on a journey through Vienna’s grandest museums, opera houses, and palaces. Along the way, we’ll encounter just a few of this city’s immortal treasures.
1. Venus of Willendorf
The world’s oldest artwork?
Discovered in a small Austrian town in the early 1900s, the 11-centimeter tall statue Venus of Willendorf was most likely created around 21,000 BCE. That makes this statue one of the oldest surviving artworks in the Western world.
Since they didn’t really keep records during the Paleolithic Era, archeologists guess this limestone statue represents a fertility goddess. Today, the Venus of Willendorf is displayed in Vienna’s Natural History Museum.
2. An eye doctor to the rescue
How Vienna got Egon Schiele’s paintings
Vienna has a local ophthalmologist to thank for preserving thousands of Modernist masterpieces. While Dr. Rudolf Leopold was a student in the 1950s, he started collecting works by the painter Egon Schiele. By 1994, Dr. Leopold had amassed over 5,000 Modernist paintings valued at a whopping $500 million.
Luckily for us, Dr. Leopold decided to give his collection the Austrian government for a very generous fee. Now visitors can see Schiele’s classic Self-Portrait With Physalis and other chef d’oeuvres at the Leopold Museum.
The Viennese kiss worth waiting for
Gustav Klimt’s 1908 painting The Kiss is one of the iconic works of Modern European Art, but it’s surprisingly multicultural. Klimt incorporated a wide variety of styles into this golden painting ranging from Ancient Egyptian to French sculpture and, most prominently, Byzantine mosaics.
Despite its universal theme, however, Klimt’s work is also a personal expression of his love for Emile Flöge. Klimt’s Kiss is now in the Österreichische Galerie Belvedere.
Even though Klimt said he believed Death and Life was his best work upon its completion in 1911, he couldn’t stop tweaking it for four more years. If you look closely at this painting at the Leopold Museum, you can still see the original gold background Klimt overlaid with blacks and greys.
Tradition breeds experimentation
Vienna is known for its exquisite works of art, which extends to the stage. The Burgtheater is the is noted as one of the most prestigious German language theaters, being the second oldest theater with a reputation for experimental plays which are sure to make morning headlines.
No visit to Vienna is complete without an evening at ‘die burg’.
Don’t let the traditional appearance throw you off – this theater is known to turn heads with its contemporary works on stage. Have a quick view of what it’s like inside.
5. Master or madman?
Visiting Freud’s enduring legacy
Although Dr. Sigmund Freud famously disliked Vienna, he also suffered from crippling travel phobia. Even after the Nazis raided his home at Berggasse 19, Freud was determined to stay in his Viennese apartment/therapy studio. It took a great deal of convincing to get Freud to flee to London when he was in his 80s.
Luckily, Freud’s apartment was unscathed by World War II and it now serves as a major museum.
The same city that brought us Freud, brought us thought-provoking art. The MAK Museum of Applied Arts has seen over 150 years of modern conceptual thinking.
This museum is a forerunner in contemporary art and has earned its place as one of the most progressive museums in the city. If you are in Vienna for an opening at the MAK, you’ve earned your way into the hearts of the Viennese art scene.
An Italian in Vienna
Shortly after Italian Renaissance master Raphael completed his Madonna in the Meadow in 1506 he gave it to one of his friends. This masterpiece eventually got into the hands of the Austrian Royal Family and was added to Belvedere Gallery’s collection in 1773.
Since this painting was held in Vienna’s Belvedere for so long some art textbooks still refer to it as the Belvedere Madonna. That’s rather inconvenient for tourists because the “Belvedere Madonna” is now hanging in the Kunsthistorisches Museum.
8. Schönbrunn Palace
It’s not just about the Habsburgs
With origins dating back to the late 1500s, Schönbrunn Palace was used as the summer palace of the Austro-Hungarian Empire Habsburg royals. The architecture, paintings, and ceiling frescoes are textbook examples of Baroque and crystalize a time when this royal family dominated European politics.
9. Austrian National Library
A view of the world
Speaking of Schönbrunn, did you know the same architect behind the Habsburg’s grand summer palace (Johann Bernhard Fischer von Erlach) also designed the Austrian National Library?
Although the Austrian National Library is known for its collections, especially the world’s largest collection of papyri, it’s equally renowned for its architecture. The library’s most impressive ceiling fresco is in the attached City Hall that and depicts Charles VI in heavenly splendor. It’s hard to believe anyone can concentrate here with all the distractingly gorgeous art!
10. How the Royals rolled
The Imperial Carriage Museum
Although the Habsburg Imperial Carriage is the main draw in Vienna’s Imperial Carriage Museum, there’s a far more interesting story attached to Maria Theresa’s smaller Carousel Carriage. This gold-plated carousel was completed in 1742 and first used by Theresa to celebrate a war victory in 1743.
11. At the Albertina
Dürer’s rare hare
German artist Albrecht Dürer completed his incredibly detailed Feldhase in 1502. For some odd reason, we English speakers have been referring to this painting as Young Hare for centuries…even though the hare in Dürer’s painting is most obviously not young. The German Feldhase better translates to “Field Hare.”
12. Vienna’s treasury
One of the most impressive pieces in the Austria Treasury’s collection is the Coronation Gospels. Historians now believe a Greek scholar completed these Gospels in France around 800 AD. As the name suggests, all Holy Roman Emperors had to place their hands on these beautiful illumined pages during the coronation ceremony.
13. Music of the Gods
The Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
To help everyone experience the thrill of a live classical concert, the Vienna Philharmonic puts on a special Summer Night Concert each year outside the Schönbrunn Palace
It’s safe to say the Vienna Philharmonic has some pretty high standards. This orchestra has earned praise not only from critics, but also directly from the lips of Wagner, Mahler, and Brahms.