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Belvedere Palace

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Set amidst the Baroque gardens of the 3rd district adjacent to the Botanical Gardens, the Belvedere is a complex of two Rococo palaces, the Upper and Lower Belvedere, that together make for one of the most idyllic tourist attractions in Vienna. It was the Lower palace, slightly more modest in style and size, that was completed first, with building work finished by 1716. Originally built for Prince Eugene the Duke of Savoy, a hero of the wars against the Ottomans, the palace is understated yet refined on the outside, and reflects the fact that it was primarily intended as a private residence. Indoors are little less restrained, with Baroque splendour on full display in rooms such as the Marble hall, where visitors will find ceiling and wall frescoes depicting the Greek god Apollo alongside Eugene himself. Elsewhere in the Lower Palace, the grotesque hall fully reflects the idiosyncratic personality of the Duke. Intended as a conversation piece for his personal guests, the room is covered with silk wallpaper and murals depicting grotesques and intriguing scenes from ancient myth, such as a volcano erupting and portraits of the three graces.

If the Lower Belvedere was Prince Eugene's private retreat from the world, then the Upper Belvedere, which started construction just one year after the completion of the lower palace, was where the Prince conducted public and official business. Completed in 1723, this palace is far bigger and more stately, with magnificent statues lining the cornice, grand windows overlooking the gardens, and spacious ballrooms welcoming guests. Visitors should walk the magnificent marble staircase, inspect the atlases of the Sala Terrena and admire the Italianate frescoes of the Carlone Hall, depicting the Triumph of Aurora.

Today the Upper Belvedere operates as a museum and art gallery, and houses the world's largest collection of Gustav Klimt paintings. Arguably the single most important piece of art in the museum is Klimt's The Kiss, his towering achievement and by some measurements the world's most popular art print. Other works by artists like Egon Schiele, Carl Moll and Josef Hoffman are dotted around the building, tracing the symbolist and Secessionist art that Vienna was known for during the first half of the 20th century. Earlier works from the 19th century are also housed in the Upper Belvedere, and visitors should ensure they do not miss Caspar David Friedrich's pictures of the Elbe Sandstone Formations, some of this atmospheric painter's finest works. Napoleon's famous portrait on horseback, a pompous take on the pint-sized French tyrant, painted by Jacques-Louis David, is another unmissable piece.

Yet this is not the only museum housed in the Belvedere, for the Lower Palace also showcases a wide selection of art from the Baroque era through to the end of the 18th century. One of the more unusual selections are the Messerchmidt busts, grotesque self-portraits in sculptural form that portray the artist in a variety of extreme facial expressions, some raging with anger, contorted in agony or about to burst into laughter. More conventional artworks by the likes of Vincent Fischer, Rottmayr and Troger are also on show here, while special exhibitions are showcased in the adjoining Orangery.


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