Museums

   Perhaps the clearest testimony to Austria’s Habsburg past is the country’s museums. Their number alone is strikingly disproportionate to the size of the population. Even more noteworthy is the quality of their holdings, which bear the stamp of continued patronage that began seriously under Emperor Maximilian I. Artworks, manuscripts, and incunabula in Vienna have often been scattered throughout Europe because of political changes, military defeats, or both. Monarchs were peripatetic, at least until the end of the 17th century. Emperor Rudolph II (1552–1612) ruled the Habsburg Empire from Prague, where he relocated many important paintings and sculptures, a number of which were seized by the Swedes and others during the Thirty Years’ War. These were largely repatriated to Vienna, often by outright purchase, as was the case of many artworks carried off by the French who occupied the city during the Napoleonic Wars in 1809. The earliest watercolors, drawings, and prints by such luminaries as Albrecht Dürer and Michelangelo in the Albertina, one of the world’s preeminent repositories of art on paper, were purchased in the 16th century by members of the ruling house. Nor was the practical side of art neglected. The Imperial and Royal Austrian Museum of Art and Industry was established by Emperor Franz Joseph in 1863.
   Provincial museums also still serve as mementos to Habsburg rule. The Joanneum, founded in Graz in 1811, housed the library and natural history collection of Archduke Johann (1782–1859), who spent much time in Styria and dedicated himself to the improvement of the province’s economy. The institute developed the first locomotive for use in mountain terrain.
   But the most powerful examples of Habsburg patronage of art and, less consistently, science are the Art History Museum (Kunsthistorisches Museum) and Natural History Museum (Naturhistorisches Museum), which make up a grandiose site in central Vienna. Begun in 1872 to bring together imperial collections dispersed around Vienna, Graz, Innsbruck, Brussels, and Prague, the entire complex was finished in 1891. The neo-Romanesque exteriors were done by one of central Europe’s leading architects of the day, Gottfried Semper, and Karl von Hasenauer (1833–1894), a professor and spokesman for the historicist school of design at the Vienna Academy of Art. Leading painters such as Hans Makart, Gustav Klimt and his brother Ernst (1864–1892), and the Hungarian Mihály Munkácsy (1844–1900) executed the interiors. The main building houses an immense collection of painting; divisions for old musical instruments, weapons, and ethnography are located nearby in the Homburg complex (1861–1913).
   The extinction of Habsburg rule in 20th-century Austria did not bring an end to the creation of important museums, particularly in Vienna. Austrian interest in modern art has been keen, especially after World War II. The Museum of the 20th Century opened in 1962. Dedicated to contemporary art, the building was partly made up of the Austrian pavilion for the Brussels World Fair of 1958. Austria’s most elaborate statement of its commitment to modern and contemporary art, however, is its Museum Quarter (MQ), opened in 1991 after 15 years of planning and discussion. A former imperial stable, the complex is a celebration of modern and contemporary art and architecture. Though Austrian materials dominate much of its permanent installation, the MQ is always on the watch globally, particularly when programming temporary exhibitions. The MQ also reserves space for contemporary performing arts, including dance and technology that houses information systems on art production and criticism. It sponsors artists-in-residence and supports them with both living and working quarters.
   The MQ is anchored by two buildings devoted to the holdings of two private connoisseurs of modern art. One, the Ludwig Foundation, is part of a huge collection that belonged to German chocolate manufacturer Peter Ludwig (1925–1996) and first came to Vienna in 1979. The other was in the hands of an Austrian ophthalmologist, Dr. Rudolf Leopold (1925–). A stunning assemblage of 19th- and 20thcentury Austrian arts and crafts was purchased with funds from the state and the Austrian National Library in 1994. The drawing power of many Austrian museums, however, is not always aesthetic. Of particular recent interest is a Jewish museum, opened in 1993 in a former city residence of Bernhard von Eskeles (1753–1839), a wealthy banker and financial advisor to the dynasty. It replaced another Jewish museum that had been in Vienna from 1897 to 1938.
   For all of the richness of its museum culture, however, Austria has no national museum, a lack that has been the subject of public debate. Authorities have recently also tried to further the quality of exhibitions and overall management of major museums by giving them increased administrative autonomy. The step has been controversial: houses such as the Kunsthistorisches Museum and the Albertina have increasingly focused on attendance records and public relations and also mergers with smaller museums. By 2007, for example, the Kunsthistorisches had incorporated the Austrian Theater Museum and the Ethnographic Museum into its programs.
   See also Restitution, Law of.

Historical dictionary of Austria. . 2014.

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