Originally built as a lavish stately residence for Prince Eugene of Savoy, then acquired in the eighteenth century by Empress Maria Theresa before being used for the Court Treasury and later as the Ministry of Finance, this Baroque jewel in Vienna’s city centre is a centre of art and culture once again. With the opening of the Belvedere’s fourth museum, Prince Eugene of Savoy’s most important rooms in his state apartment are now accessible to the public.
Building on the historical legacy and far-reaching impact of the cosmopolitan prince, a further important art hub has been established in Vienna’s city centre that is fed by interactions between the town and the garden palace – the Winter Palace and the Belvedere. They have now been reunited after more than 260 years. Following the first exhibition, dedicated to the prince on the occasion of his 350th birthday, the main aim is to create a dialogue between cultural heritage and contemporary art – an approach that has been realized with great success at some of the world’s great art institutions including the Belvedere Palace. The staterooms in Vienna’s Himmelpfortgasse have become a place of artistic encounter between the Baroque setting, the Belvedere’s collections, and contemporary art. Presentations are developed with direct reference to the site and the result is inspiring new artworks created in situ, drawing on the palace’s unique ambiance and history. Vital starting points are the city palace’s architecture, the prince’s former collections, and the holdings of the Belvedere.
Between 1724 and 1729, the Art of War tapestries from the workshop of Jodocus de Vos were presented in Prince Eugene’s official antechamber. The walls used to be lined with red velvet; unfortunately there is no record of the ceiling’s original decoration.
In Prince Eugene’s day, the State Bedroom was considered the enfilade’s most outstanding room. The green velvet wall covering was interspersed with wide borders embroidered with grotesque motifs. This most spacious stateroom also contained a magnificent bed, which served the purpose of ceremony rather than sleeping. The central ceiling fresco by Louis Dorigny features the Marriage of Hercules and Hebe and is surrounded by illusionistic architecture painted by Marcantonio Chiarini.
This stateroom, once used as an Audience Chamber, was adorned with red velvet wall coverings. One of its eye-catching features was a hot-air stove representing Hercules Fighting Ladon, the dragon guarding the Garden of the Hesperides (today at Schönbrunn Palace). The ceiling fresco by Andrea Lanzani depicts Hercules Ascending to Olympus and has survived intact.
The Yellow Room and the adjacent room originally accommodated the prince’s picture gallery. A long hall stretching over five window bays, it displayed paintings by artists such as Anthony van Dyck, Peter Paul Rubens, and Guido Reni, as well as two lacquer cabinets. When the remodelling of the palace began in 1752, the room was divided and a false ceiling installed. This still conceals a ceiling fresco of Boreas Abducting Orithyia by Louis Dorigny.
The Conference Room, furnished with a fireplace and a tile stove, still betrays its original function. The walls were covered with tapestries featuring grotesques from the Brussels-based studio of Jodocus de Vos. It is unclear whether the ceiling painting by Paul Strudel, The Victory of Justice over the Unjust Ruler, formed part of the original decoration.
The magnificent Gold Cabinet’s original carved ceiling has been completely preserved. In keeping with the period’s taste, the walls were covered with mirrors and brackets supporting Oriental porcelain. Parts of the decoration were transferred to the Lower Belvedere and used for the latter’s Gold Cabinet. The resulting empty surfaces were subsequently decorated with paintings commissioned especially for this purpose from the artists Franz Caspar Sambach and Franz Zogelmann.
A total of three library rooms, including the so-called Hall of Battle Paintings with seven oil paintings showing the general’s victorious battles, accommodated major parts of Prince Eugene’s extensive book collection. After Prince Eugene’s death, Emperor Charles VI acquired his books, manuscripts, and prints for the Court Library.
The small chapel is an addition dating from the reconstruction started in 1752. The wall paintings are particularly interesting, as they seem to be by the hand of an as yet unidentified painter from the circle of the Vienna Academy. Prince Eugene’s own small chapel used to be installed in the rear section of the State Bedroom, but has not survived. It is believed that both the altar and the parquet flooring come from this original chapel.
THE HISTORY OF THE WINTER PALACE
The Winter Palace was built on a total of four plots in Vienna’s Himmelpfortgasse, formerly known as Trabothen-Gasse.
First building phase (1696–1698)
The first plot of land was purchased in 1694. Based on plans by the Baroque architect Johann Bernhard Fischer von Erlach, the first building phase began in 1696 and eventually extended to the adjacent plot, then known as the Stadel (barn), which was acquired in 1702. At this stage, the palace comprised a portal and seven bays, which today form the central section of the Winter Palace and the Grand Staircase.
Second building phase (1708–1711)
In 1703, Prince Eugene acquired another plot, the so-called Ballhaus (ball house). Between 1708 and 1711, architect Johann Lucas von Hildebrandt extended the palace from seven to twelve bays and had a second portal constructed, which today is the doorway on the left.
Third building phase (1723–1724)
After purchasing a fourth plot in 1719, the third building phase began in 1723 and continued through to 1724. The Winter Palace was extended from twelve to seventeen bays, including the library wing and a third portal, today’s doorway on the right. Prince Eugene died in 1736, in the early hours of 21 April. His sole heiress was his niece, Anna Victoria of Savoy, who successively sold the movable property; partition walls were introduced to divide the palace. While the newer part, the so-called Kleines Haus (Small House), was rented out, the older section was left empty for eighteen years.
The Winter Palace since 1752
In 1752, Empress Maria Theresa acquired not only the Winter Palace, but also the Belvedere and the palaces of Hof and Niederweiden. Following several renovations and adaptations, the Winter Palace accommodated the Imperial Chamber for Minting and Mining, the Supreme Judicial Authority, and finally the Court Treasury, the institution preceding the Ministry of Finance. Then, starting in 1841, a further period of adaptations culminated in the establishment of the Imperial and Royal Ministry of Finance at this location in 1848. Major restoration work was undertaken between 1888 and 1890, followed by smaller adaptations in the years 1913 and 1928. From 1945 to 1947, damage from the Second World War was repaired, and between 1967 and 1973 the staterooms underwent a thorough renovation.
In 2004 the decision to launch a major restoration programme was made under the direction of the Burghauptmannschaft Österreich, responsible for the management and conservation of the Republic of Austria’s historic buildings. After approximately five years’ work, this year saw the completion of these renovations and adaptations. Under the auspices of the Burghauptmannschaft and in agreement with the Federal Monuments Office, the site has been updated while great care was taken to preserve the historic fabric of the building by Johann Bernhard Fischer von Erlach and Johann Lucas von Hildebrandt. In this way, the renovations have taken account both the building’s unique qualities and historical significance and the requirements of a modern, forward-looking administration.
With the opening of the Belvedere’s new – and fourth – exhibition venue, the principal rooms of Prince Eugene’s state apartments are accessible to the public since October 2013.
Daily 10 am to 6 pm
Himmelpfortgasse 8, 1010 Vienna
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