Prince Eugene of Savoy

Jacob van Schuppen, Prinz Eugen als Türkensieger, 1718 © Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam/als Dauerleihgabe im Belvedere

 

In 2010, Belvedere acknowledged the builders of the palace as military commanders, philosophers and art lovers in a large and special exhibition held there. One thing made the other possible. Indeed, his successful military and diplomatic activities under three Habsurg emperors brought him great powers so that he could work as a builder and patron of arts. For people of modern age, it may seem thought-provoking that military success, which used claim many human lives was generously rewarded. However,  a closer look into the history shows that one should not draw conclusions too hastily in this regard.

It has to be pointed out here that a war of that time had a completely different meaning in comparison to today’s war. A permanent state of war never existed but rather battles were fought with a certain target. And military actions were considered as the use of political means to defend one’s own territories at the time of Prince Eugene. From the relief battle fought in Vienna in 1683 in which Prince Eugene was only a small wheel as lieutenant-colonel, to the Rhein campaign during the Polish succession war: War had nothing to do with contempt for mankind. Moreover, ‘‘professional’’ and ‘‘private’’ fields were strictly separated from one another. Otherwise, it would not have been possible for Prince Eugene to fight against the French since he was born a Frenchman. He had close friendship with the archduke of Marlborough, who stood firm on his side in 1704 during the battle of Höchstädt. This friendship also endured after Marlborough fell out of favour in his English homeland. The most important commanders were hence in no way the cruellest people but rather the cleverest ones as in the case of Prince Eugene; the art of war as engineering science belonged to the seven Artes mechanicae. Interestingly enough, some of the most famous architects of the time such as Johann Lucas von Hildebrandt made their name first as military architects before turning over to civil duties, and could enjoy success by building magnificent palaces and churches.

The city palace of the prince in Himmelpfortgasse Vienna shows copper engraving with numerous people in front of it. Here, the Turkish Agas (chiefs) use to arrive and Prince Eugene used to welcome them solemnly together with his entourage. Despite the battles which one had to fight against one another, people came across each other with dignity and sometimes even in a friendly way away from the battlefield, with great interest shown for other cultures. The interaction with people from other countries led to rich cultural interaction even within the scope of military actions. In the 18th century, this led to a à la turca-fashion to flourish in large parts of Europe. Without these contacts, numerous plants like tulips and maize wouldn’t have spread out so rapidly, whereas most of them reached central Europe in form of respectable diplomatic gifts. Turkish textiles and carpets, in particular, also became very popular. Even in the Ottoman kingdom, people oriented themselves to the latest trends of central European baroque, whereby they used to find inspiration through architecture especially. 


Prince Eugene’s military-political carrier is without doubt exemplary since at the end of the day, he even had the prestigious post of general governor of Austrian Netherlands for a few years. Besides this, he was active as an eager builder and was also an inspired art collector and booklover. It is was his characteristic that despite his passions, he did not forget his troops even during peaceful times and worried about their wellbeing, and in a changed testament according to legend, he also wanted to establish generous foundations for them. From today’s point of view, one can observe him as an innovative and successful manager with great sense of responsible, who was aware of the positive and unifying power of art and culture.  

 

 

Biography of Prince Eugene

 

 

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