Discovering the Belvedere Palaces’ Artistic History in Vienna
The Belvedere Palace history begins as the summer residence of Prince Eugene of Savoy (1663–1736) and now houses many famous pieces of artwork you can visit today. Namely a number of Gustav Klimt paintings. The area includes an Upper and Lower Belvedere on either side of the gorgeous Belvedere gardens. Being a marvelous example of art and architecture, it’s no wonder it was the first place I visited in Vienna!
Belvedere Palace History
When the Belvedere was being built, Vienna was the imperial capital and home to the ruling Habsburg dynasty. Originally the location of the vineyards outside the Imperial City, work on the palace started with the construction of the Lower Belvedere. Which took place between 1712 and 1716. While the Lower Belvedere was a residence, the upper area was originally intended to be a gloriette, to create a beautiful view over the city. Empress Maria Theresa gave the Palace its name, Belvedere meaning “beautiful view”, who acquired the property soon after Prince Eugene’s death.
However, the area was turned into the Upper Belvedere to create a place to display art. Construction took place between 1717 and 1723. It was adapted to house the Imperial Picture Gallery in the late 1770s. I started my tour of the Belvedere at the Upper section as that’s where my Vienna Pass hop on hop off bus tour dropped us off. The bus has stops on both ends so there is no need to walk back up to get on it. The Upper section has a number of amazing pieces of art. A few of my favorites I’ve placed above. I had to take a photo of the Napoleon painting everyone had in their textbooks in school. The statue of the man’s face below was definitely my favorite thing in the whole palace.
The Belvedere Today
Today, as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it houses the greatest collection of Austrian art dating from the Middle Ages to the present day. International artists such as Claude Monet, Vincent van Gogh, and Max Beckmann are on display as well. The Lower Belvedere and the former Orangery now house temporary exhibitions. The photos above are rooms in the Lower Belvedere. They had such an assortment of different decorations and motifs. The golden mirrored room you see was very reminiscent of the Hall of Mirrors in Versailles. The Upper Belvedere houses the permanent displays with the main attraction being the collection of paintings by Klimt.
Gustav Klimt Paintings
Boasting the world’s largest collection of Gustav Klimt’s paintings, there is some history between the artist Gustav Klimt (1862–1918) and the Belvedere in Vienna. Klimt and other artists were the motivating factors behind the founding of the Moderne Galerie in 1903. Evolving into the Belvedere today. Their aim was to create a place for contemporary Austrian art and to present it in an international context. With 24 works, the Belvedere holds the most Gustav Klimt paintings, including the two masterpieces from his Golden Period, Kiss (Lovers) and Judith, other major portraits and more.
The Kiss (Lovers) by Gustav Klimt is the most famous Austrian painting and the highlight of the permanent collection at the Upper Belvedere. Truly, it’s on nearly everything in the gift shop. It’s from Klimt’s “Golden Period” where he developed a new technique of combining gold leaf with oils and bronze paint. The lovers’ garments are adorned with gold leaf and the background is suffused with delicate gold, silver, and platinum flakes. If you’ve seen the Woman in Gold film, you’ll likely know a bit about the history of Klimt’s paintings already.
The Belvedere Gardens
From the Lower to the Upper Belvedere you pass thru the gardens. The Belvedere gardens are set on a bit of an incline, making for a great view from the Upper Belvedere. Decorative fountains, Baroque sculptures, and wrought iron gates adorn the garden. The Belvedere garden is one of Europe’s most significant historical gardens with its French style. Honestly, I felt like I could have seen the cast of Versailles walking thru there. I’d love to go back around the holidays, I’m sure Vienna in December is amazing!
In front of the Upper Belvedere’s outdoor steps is a large pool that mirrors the palace. Up until 1726 the grounds extended eastward to encompass a menagerie. To the south, a geometrical kitchen garden was located in the area now occupied by Vienna’s Botanical Gardens. In the eighteenth century, the park was primarily a place to take a stroll. As a note, it’s a bit of a walk from one side to the other so it’s a bit of a strenuous stroll. As you can see above, the main garden is divided into three large terraces. The Palace Gardens were planned by the Bavarian Electorate’s garden designer Dominique Girard.
Touring the Palace
You can rent an audio guide with commentary about the artwork to get even more Belvedere Palace history. That’s what my Mother and I did. They are available in German, English, French, Italian, Spanish, Japanese, Korean and Russian. A multimedia tour in Austrian sign language is also on offer. For the temporary exhibitions, there are audio guide tours in German and English. These guides are available at an additional cost.