The Museum of Fine Arts (Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien) is an art museum in Vienna, Austria. Housed in its festive palatial building on Ringstraße, it is crowned with an octagonal dome. The term Kunsthistorisches Museum applies to both the institution and the main building. It is the largest art museum in the country.
The Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna is one of the foremost museums in the world, with rich holdings comprising artworks from seven millennia – from Ancient Egypt to the late 18th century.
The collections of Renaissance and Baroque art are of particular importance. The KHMs extensive holdings are on show at different locations:The main building on Ringstrasse houses the Picture Gallery, the Collection of Greek and Roman Antiquities, the Egyptian and Near Eastern Collection, the Coin Collection, and the Kunstkammer that will reopen in February 2012. Other collections of the Kunsthistorisches Museum are housed in the Neue Burg (the Collection of Historical Musical Instruments, the Collection of Arms and Armour, and the Ephesus Museum), in Hofburg Palace (the Treasury), and in Schoenbrunn Palace (the Collection of Historical Carriages).
The collections on show at Ambras Palace are also part of the holdings of the Kunsthistorisches Museum. 2001the Museum of Ethnology on Heldenplatz and the Austrian Theatre Museum on Lobkowitz Square have been incorporated into the KHM. The Planning of the Ringstrasse began in 1857 and included the project to bring together and show the imperial collections in a grand new building featuring state-of-the-art technical and display facilities; it took, however, another ten years until the competition to design the new museums was actually held.
The museum was created from the collections of the Habsburgs, mainly from the portrait and harness collection of Ferdinand of Tyrol, the collection of Emperor Rudolf II (most of which, however, is scattered) and the collection of paintings by Archduke Leopold Wilhelm. As early as 1833, Joseph von Arneth, Custos (and later Director) of the Imperial Mint and Antique Cabinet, demanded the consolidation of all imperial collections in a single building.
Emperor Franz Joseph I, who had decided to demolish the city walls at Christmas in 1857, gave the order to construct the museum in the course of the expansion of the city in 1858.
Subsequently, numerous designs were submitted for the Ringstrasse zone. Plans by August Sicard of Sicardsburg and Eduard van der Nüll envisaged the erection of two museum buildings in the immediate vicinity of the Hofburg on the left and right of today’s Heldenplatz. The architect Ludwig Förster planned museum buildings between Schwarzenbergplatz and Stadtpark. Martin Ritter von Kink preferred buildings on the corner Währinger Straße / Schottenring, where the Votivkirche was built. Peter Joseph Lenné suggested the area around Bellariastraße (not far from the actually chosen location). Moritz von Loehr wanted to erect the two court museums on the southern side of the opera house (where the Akademie der bildenden Künste Wien was later built), Ludwig Zettl on the southeast side of the cereal market.
The architects who participated in 1867 were Hansen, Lehr, Ferstel and Hasenauer, all of whom worked in Vienna. When jury and patron failed for months to agree on a winner, Gottfried Semper, the internationally-renowned architect known for his museum designs, was called in as an advisor in 1868.
A decisive factor for the success of Semper and Hasenauer compared to the projects of other architects was, a. Sempers vision of a large building complex called “Kaiserforum”, in which the museums were a part. Not least through the death of Sempers in 1879, the Kaiserforum was not executed in the planned form, but the two museums were erected.
The construction of the two museums took place without ceremony on 27 November 1871. Semper subsequently moved to Vienna. From the beginning, there were considerable personal differences between him and Hasenauer, who finally took over the construction management from 1877 alone. In 1874, the scaffolding were erected up to the attic storey and the Hochparterre was completed, the first windows were installed in 1878, the attic and the balustrade were completed in 1879, and the dome and tabernacle were built between 1880 and 1881.
The Attica is surrounded by statues representing personalities from the field of art. The sculpture jewelery was made by Edmund Hellmer, Carl Kundmann, Viktor Tilgner, Caspar Zumbusch and others. The entrance is flanked by sitting allegorical statues of the painting (to the left of Edmund Hellmer) and the sculpture (to the right of Johannes Benk). The dome is crowned with a bronze statue of Pallas Athene by Johannes Benk.
The staircase of the Kunsthistorisches Museum is equipped with works by Gustav Klimt, Ernst Klimt, Franz Matsch, Hans Makart and Mihály Munkácsy.
The Kunsthistorisches Museum was officially opened on October 17, 1891 by Emperor Franz Joseph I. Since 22 October 1891, the museum is open to the public. Already two years earlier, on November 3, 1889, the armory, today the court hunt and armory chamber, had opened their doors. On the 1st of January, 1890, the library opened its doors. The collection and arrangement of the other collections of the imperial imperial house from the Lower and Upper Belvedere, the Hofburg and Ambras Castle in Tyrol takes another two years.
Very soon, the court museum for the imperial collections had become too narrow. To remedy this, an exhibition of the ancient finds from Ephesus in the Theseus temple in the Volksgarten was conceived. In addition, however, rooms in the Lower Belvedere had to be rented.
In 1914, after the assassination of the successor to the throne Franz Ferdinand, his Estensian collection moved into the administration of the Hofmuseum. This collection, drawn from the art collection of the House d’Este and the world collection of Franz Ferdinand, had been exhibited in the Neue Hofburg since 1908. The collection of old musical instruments as well as the Museum of Ethnic Studies emerged from these collections.
The First World War, with the exception of the oppressive economic situation, passed without loss. The Hofmuseum remained open to the public during the five years of the war.
Until 1919 the k.k. Kunsthistorische Hofmuseum to the Oberstkämmereramt and belonged to the family Fideikommiss of the House of Habsburg-Lorraine. The officials and employees were part of the imperial court.
The transition from the monarchy to the republic took place in the museum in complete tranquility. On 19 November 1918 the two court museums on the Maria Theresienplatz were placed under the protection of the state of the young German Republic. In the following weeks and months, the claims of the “successor states” of the monarchy, as well as Italy and Belgium, were threatening the museum’s holdings on Austrian art. In fact, on February 12, 1919, there were forcible removal of 62 paintings by armed Italian units. This “Kunstraub” left a trauma among the curators and art historians for a long time.
It was only the peace treaty of Saint-Germain of September 10, 1919, which stipulated in Article 195 and 196 the regulation of the claims on cultural matters by negotiation. The demands of Belgium, Czechoslovakia, and again Italy could be largely avoided in this way. Only Hungary, which by far had the greatest demands, was met in more than ten years of negotiations in 147 cases.
On April 3, 1919, the expropriation of the House of Habsburg-Lorraine was carried out by the Republic and by the taking over of its property, including the “Collections of the Archaic House”. On 18 June 1920, the temporary administration of the former court museums as well as the Estensian collections and the Secular and Secular Treasury was transferred to the National Office for Interior and Instruction, the Federal Ministry of the Interior and Education since 10 November 1920. A few days later, the Kunsthistorisches Hofmuseum was renamed the “Kunsthistorisches Staatsmuseum Wien”, in 1921 the “Kunsthistorisches Museum”. On January 1, 1921, the staff of the museum moved into the normal staff of the Republic.
By taking over the former imperial collections in state ownership, the museum saw itself in a completely new situation. In 1919, Hans Tietze designed the “Viennese Museum Program” to meet the changing circumstances in the museum area. There was close co-operation between the individual museums, in order to set collections at the different houses. Thus exchange, sale, and compensation dominated the acquisition policy in the inter-war period. From this point of view, valid collection tendencies have emerged. The relocation of the weapon collection from 1934 to the present premises in the New Castle, where the collection of old musical instruments had already been arranged since 1916, was another direction.
The Museum 1938-1945:
With the “Anschluss” of Austria to the German Reich, all Jewish art collections such as those of the Rothschilds were compulsorily “arised”. Collections were either “given” or simply distributed by the Gestapo to the museums. This resulted in a considerable increase in stocks. The KHM, however, was not the only museum to benefit from the Aryanization. Stolen Jewish property was systematically sold to museums, collections, or pawnshops throughout the empire.
After the end of the war, the museum, to the extent that it wanted at all, had a hard time reimbursing the “arised” works of art to the owners and their heirs. The Rothschild family was forced to leave the most important part of their own collection to the museum; this was called “dedication” or “donation”. The export law, which did not allow owners to carry certain objects of art outside the country, was cited as the reason. Similar methods were used by other former owners.
It was only decades later that the Federal Government decided to amend the law by means of international diplomatic and media pressure, largely from the United States (the so-called Lex Rothschild Art Restitution Act, 1998). The objects of art were not reimbursed to the Rothschild family until the 1990s.
On the basis of the Federal Law on the Return of Objects of Art from December 4, 1998 (Federal Law Gazette I No. 181/1998), the Kunsthistorisches Museum conducts extensive research on the subject. Already prior to this decree, research was carried out on the initiative of the then director of archives, Herbert Haupt. To this end, in 1998 he worked with Lydia Gröbl to present a comprehensive set of facts about the changes in the inventories of the Kunsthistorisches Museum during the Nazi time and in the years up to the 1955 Staatsvertrag, an important basis for further research on provenance.
Since 1 April 2009 the two historians Susanne Hehenberger and Monika Löscher have worked as provenance researchers at the Kunsthistorisches Museum, commissioned by the Commission for Provenance Research, and are working on the investigation period from 1933 to the recent past. As reported in September 2015, the reworking of the music art of the Nazi period begins only now. According to Commission President Eva Blimlinger, a report on the collection of old musical instruments is to be submitted by the end of 2017.
The collections of the Museum of Art History, originating in particular from the former Austrian imperial collections of the Habsburg dynasty, bring together works ranging from Egyptian and Greek antiquity to the eighteenth century in the field of decorative arts, paint.
On the ground floor and at the mezzanine are the Egyptian and Near Eastern collections as well as the Greek, Etruscan and Roman antiquities. On the mezzanine are sculptures and decorative arts.
The entire first floor is devoted to painting: the left wing is reserved for the Flemish, Dutch and German schools; The right wing, to the Italian, Spanish and French schools.
On the second floor, the halls of the adjoining gallery (Sekundärgalerie) gather hundreds of Flemish, German and Italian works from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.
The museum has the largest collection of works by Pieter Brueghel the Elder; Seventeen in all, including the famous paintings La Tour de Babel (1563) and Chasseurs dans la neige (1565).
The museum’s primary collections are those of the Habsburgs, particularly from the portrait and armour collections of Ferdinand of Tirol, the collections of Emperor Rudolph II (the largest part of which is, however, scattered), and the collection of paintings of Archduke Leopold Wilhelm, of which his Italian paintings were first documented in the Theatrum Pictorium.
Egyptian and Near Eastern Collection
The Egyptian and Near Eastern Collection of the Kunsthistorisches Museum is among the world’s most important collections of Egyptian antiquities. The more than 17 000 objects date from a period of almost four thousand years, from the Egyptian Predynastic and Early Dynastic periods (ca. 3500 BC) to the early Christian era. Geographically their origins range from Egypt, Nubia, the eastern Mediterranean and Mesopotamia to the Arabian Peninsula.
The collection is structured in four large areas: funerary cult, cultural history, sculpture and relief and the development of writing. Among the highlights are the richly decorated Offering Chapel of Ka-ni-nisut from the Old Kingdom, numerous sarcophagi and coffins, animalmummies, examples of the Book of the Dead, grave stelae, divine figures, objects of daily life such as clothing and cosmetic articles, masterpieces of sculpture such as the Reserve Head from Giza, facial stelae from southern Arabia as well as a depiction of a lion from the Ischtar Gate in Babylon.
Collection of Greek and Roman Antiquities
The objects in the Collection of Greek and Roman Antiquities span a period of more than three millennia and range from Bronze Age ceramics of Cyprus dating from the 3rd millennium BC to early Medieval finds. Some 2500 objects are on permanent display. Three main areas in particular make this collection one of the best of its kind: the unique and spectacular antique cameos, including the famous Gemma Augustea, the treasure troves dating from the period of the great migrations and the early Middle Ages, such as the golden treasure of Nagyszentmiklós, and the collection of vases with such masterpieces as the Brygos Cup.
Among the other highlights of the collection are the larger-than life Votive Statue of a Man from Cyprus, the Amazonian Sarcophagus, the bronze tablet with the famous Senatus consultum de Bacchanalibus, the Theseus Mosaic from Salzburg and, not least, the Youth from the Magdalensberg, to name only a few.
The Picture Gallery of the Kunsthistorisches Museum developed from the art collections of the House of Habsburg. Today it is one of the largest and most important of its kind in the world.
The foundations of the collection were laid and its main emphases set in the 17th century: 16th-century Venetian painting (Titian, Veronese, Tintoretto), 17th-century Flemish painting (Peter Paul Rubens, Sir Anthony Van Dyck), Early Netherlandish painting (Jan van Eyck, Rogier van der Weyden) and German Renaissance painting (Albrecht Dürer, Lucas Cranach).
Among the other highlights in the Picture Gallery are its holdings of pictures by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, which are unique worldwide, as well as masterpieces by Vermeer, Rembrandt, Raphael, Caravaggio, Velázquez and Italian Baroque painters.
The Cradle of the Museum
The Kunstkammer Wien is the most important collection of its kind in the world. Since March 1, 2013 this unique collection is now again open to the public. Come and see a »museum within the museum«: twenty newly-installed galleries invite you to experience a world of beauty and wit, curiosities and wonder.
The Coin Collection is one of the five largest and most important coin collections in the world. With some 600,000 objects from three millennia, it contains not only coins, but also paper money, medallions, orders, etc. Some 2,000 objects can be seen in the three halls housing the permanent display, which represents only a small part of the holdings.
The first hall offers an overview of the history and development of the medal from its origins in Italy around 1400 up to the 20th century. Austrian and European orders and medals of honour are likewise presented here. The second hall focuses on the history of coin and paper money, from pre-monetary forms of payment and natural monies to the invention of the coin in the 7th century B.C. in the region of the Lydian coast and on up to the 20th century. The third hall is reserved for special exhibitions.
The Viennese collection numbers among the best of its kind in the world. Furthermore, it is the best-documented collection of court arms and armour in the western world, since the exhibits were generally created or acquired in connection with important political occasions: on the occasion of military campaigns, Imperial Diets, ceremonies of homage, coronations, engagements, marriages and baptisms. No family of rulers was connected by marriage with so many European countries as were the Habsburgs. For this reason, nearly all western European princes from the 15th to the early 20th centuries are represented with armour and ornamental weapons.
The suits of armour are custom creations made by the most famous armourers: the Armour for a Horseman by Tommaso Missaglia, the Cuirassier Armour by Lorenz Helmschmid for Emperor Maximilian I, the Boy’s Folded Skirt Armour by Konrad Seusenhofer for the future Emperor Charles V, as well as the Half-Armour alla Romana by Filippo Negroli and many others. The often magnificent etchings were quite frequently based on designs by such famous artists as Dürer and Holbein.
Collection of Historic Musical Instruments
The Collection of Historic Musical Instruments is home to the most important collection of renaissance and baroque instruments worldwide. Furthermore, the museum keeps, maintains and presents numerous instruments that were played by famous musicians and composers. The collection includes a particularly comprehensive range of clavichords and Viennese fortepianos. The world of sound in which the composers of Viennese Classicism lived can be heard and understood here in a nearly complete fashion. The holdings of the collection have their origins in Habsburg holdings; they have since been continually expanded via purchases, gifts and loans. The Matinees of the Collection of Historic Musical Instruments give visitors the opportunity to both see and hear the instruments, insofar as their condition allows them to be played.
The Library of the Kunsthistorisches Museum is a reference library that comprises the libraries of the Museum’s different collections and departments, housing a total of around 256.000 volumes. The collection of historically important books numbers around 36.ooo titles. Its main focus is on incunabula, manuscripts, maps and historical prints relating to history, cultural history and art. It addition, it houses special collections such as the Library of Maximilian with its large group of pamphlets, or the Collection of Prints that comprises documents on the history of the architecture and the interior decoration of the former imperial collections.
The Library is continually augmented and enlarged, adding books, audio-visual media, and artefacts selected to reflect the focus of the Kunsthistorisches Museum’s collections: Egyptology, Archaeology, Numismatics, ancient and modern Art History, the history of arms and armour, coach building and craftsmanship, musical instruments, history and cultural history.
The museum today:
At the instigation of the then director, Wilfried Seipel, the museum was the first federal museum to be given full legal capacity on 1 January 1999. (Most of the other federal museums followed in the years.) With about 880,000 visits to the main building and Neuerburg (2014, without connected, as independent collections) it is one of the most visited sights in Vienna.
The Kunsthistorisches Museum as a museum enterprise is under the name Kunsthistorisches Museum with museum for ethnology and Austrian Theater Museum with the company number 182081t since 11 June 1999 on the basis of the Federal Museen Law, BGBl.I No. 115/1998, and the museum arrangement of the Kunsthistorisches Museum with museum for Völkerkunde and the Austrian Theatermuseum of January 3, 2001, BGBl. II No. 2/2001, in force since 1 January 2001, as a scientific institution of public law of the Federation.