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Kunsthistorisches Museum

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Arguably Vienna's finest art gallery, the magnificent Kunsthistorisches Museum stocks a collection of exquisite art that has few parallels anywhere on earth. Sitting opposite its near-identical twin the Naturhistorisches Museum on busy Marie Theresa Platz, this huge museum dates back to 1891, and boasts a lavish interior decorated with complex murals, gold-leaf fixtures, polished marble, stucco reliefs and stunning ornamentation. Touring around this jewel of Austrian architecture makes visitors feel like they have been transported inside a work of art, so rich and detailed are the museum's hallowed halls and enchanted corridors.

The larger part of the collection here was amassed by the ruling Habsburg dynasty over the course of their almost seven hundred year reign in Austria. As a result, the art here is truly world-class, with works of such fame and quality as to compete with the best art museums in the world. Artworks span seven millennia, from the hieroglyphics of ancient Egypt and the busts of antiquity to 18th century French paintings and huge neo-Baroque masterpieces.

Visitors to the Kunsthistorisches will enjoy some real blockbuster paintings by the greatest artists of all time. Start with portraits by Giorgione and Tintoretto in the quattrocento hall, taking care not to miss Titian's epic depiction of Christ, Ecce Homo or Raphael's Madonna of the Meadow. Moving into the modern era you will find Venice captured by the graceful hand of Canaletto and Caravaggio's supreme Madonna. Art from the Northern Renaissance is a particular specialty of the gallery, and the fantastic visions of Bosch, Bruegel and Memling, as well as the haunting precision of Van Eyck, can be found here, along with later canvases by Rubens, Rembrandt and Vermeer, among others. Austrian and Prussian art is also not without significant representation, and darkly expressive pieces from Altdorfer and Cranach, along with hugely symbolic works by Durer, are amongst the highlights. Rounding out the selection of paintings by Old Masters are royal portraits by Velazquez, including his heart-rendering study of sickly, pale Prince Felipe Prospero. This touching painting is particularly important, as the Prince did not live to see his fifth birthday, and his untimely early death meant the end of the Habsburg reign in the Iberian peninsula.

Yet amazingly the picture gallery is but one small segment of this sprawling complex. Other sections in the museum are dedicated to coins and silverware, or sculpture and the decorative arts. Greek and Roman artifacts are another area sure to impress, with intact Mycenaean figurines thousands of years old, and cameos from the height of the Roman Empire depicting historical giants such as Nero.

The Kunsthistorisches has played a central role in the imaginations of Viennese artists and writers down the years, with legendary novelist and playwright Thomas Bernhard setting all of one of his most famous works, Old Masters, in the grand old art museum. Gustav Klimt was known to visit the museum regularly as an early artist, and the broad range of art on the walls here undoubtedly helped to shape his eclectic vision.


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