Location: Upper Belvedere
On the occasion of the military commander’s 350th birthday, Prince Eugene - The Prince and His Menagerie directs attention not only to an entirely animated aspect of the former owner’s collection, but also to the original appearance of individual rooms at the Upper Belvedere. Thanks to his successes as a military commander serving three Habsburg emperors and the offices bestowed upon him, the prince had a fortune at his disposal that enabled him to purchase numerous treasures. The Belvedere – in historical maps, prints, and documents mostly referred to as the prince’s “garden” – allowed him to also pursue his passions as a lover of nature. As early as 1716, Prince Eugene had acquired a piece of land on which to establish his menagerie, and the following year construction work commenced. The facility was modelled on the menagerie of Louis XIV in Versailles, built after plans by Louis Le Vau in 1663. A winter menagerie was erected, a visit to which constituted an attraction during Prince Eugene’s lifetime, with peacocks, swans, cranes, and common spoonbills populating the courtyard, while fallow deer, chamois, monkeys, Tripolitan and Turkish sheep, lynxes, a lion, ostriches, guinea fowls, and many other species were on view within the enclosures. Apart from descriptions by Johann Basilius Küchelbecker and Johann Georg Keyßler, visual documents are immensely important for today’s research, such as the series of coloured engravings based on designs by Salomon Kleiner, which is now preserved in the Albertina. “Besides rare plants, this illustrated menagerie also contained numerous animals, and it seems as if this part of the collections was particularly accurately captured as there was an awareness for its ephemerality. The painters primarily trusted with this task were Ignaz Heinitz von Heinzenthal, Philipp Ferdinand de Hamilton, and Franz Werner Tamm,” Georg Lechner, the exhibition’s curator, points out. The exhibition highlights paintings owned by Prince Eugene, a number of further animal depictions dating from the period, selected watercolours, and prints by Salomon Kleiner. In order to enhance the documentary relevance of these works, they are juxtaposed with mounted animals kindly provided by the Museum of Natural History.