Sunday, April 14, 2013

The Habsburgs and the art of collecting

Vienna does a very good job of being both a modern center of global commerce and a city full of historical wonders.  Walk across a busy street, glance to the side, and wonder often greets you.

Click on any image to see a larger version.

On this vacation, I rarely try to go directly anywhere.  I'm in no hurry, I don't have to be anywhere, and I like what I encounter when I wander a bit.  Today was no exception:  a very indirect course led to the happy circumstance of encountering this grand old church.

St. Charles' Church, or Karlskirche, is an early 1700s-era baroque cathedral that features both an ornate interior and two amazing columns literally wrapped in carved stories. 

Though under renovation, the interior is still lovely and well worth a visit. 

The fresco in the dome, while not up to the best of what I've seen this trip, is still beautiful and an incredible piece of work. 

Amazingly,  Johann Michael Rottmayr, the man who did it, began the project at age 70 and finished it five years later.  Don't let anyone tell you ever that your best work is behind you.  It doesn't have to be. 

A lift takes you to a platform from which you have a great view of the interior.  From the platform, 11 sets of 11 steps each (isn't 11 just a great number?  I quite like it) take you up into the top of the dome.  The views of the city from there are great, but what you see on the inside is a sad reminder that people everywhere can't resist marking historical objects. 

Now, I'm a fan of graffiti, but really, folks, couldn't we give the tower of a nearly three-centuries-old church a break?

The church adjoins a park that was full of folks doing what people do everywhere in parks:  having fun, hanging out, playing with friends and kids.  I love this multi-kid teeter-totter.

On the way to a museum, I couldn't help but notice this rat-dog of a purse in a window.  Amazing.

Speaking of amazing, said museum was the Kunsthistorisches Museum, which houses much of the kunstkammer, or collection, of the Habsburgs.  The notion behind building a kunstkammer was to gather objects that covered all of your interests, which should of course be all of creation, and in doing so to demonstrate both how amazingly knowledgeable you were and how very, very rich you were.  Given how much money the Habsburgs had and how much of the world (particularly but not exclusively the European world) they at times ruled, the fraction of their kunstkammer that I could see in several hours today was very impressive indeed. 

I particularly enjoyed the automata, but I have no pictures for you; the museum did not permit photography, and the staff was on the job. 

I did manage to take a quick snap of this amazing, multi-leaved altar decoration, a huge construction that in a way was a giant comic book. 

I also grabbed a quick pic of the famous Cellini salt cellar, but it was so out of focus that you'll do better to look at the image here.  It's the only piece Cellini did in gold, and at the instruction of a cardinal, he did it for the king of France.  (The cardinal said the model was so good that Cellini should do it only for that king, and Cellini, being no fool, got the introduction and the commission.  The king then gave it to the Habsburgs.) 

Okay, I did get another picture in the museum.

So the clockmaker is working away, wondering how to top his creation, and he thinks, "Sure, I'll put on Christ, but everyone does that.  Hmmm.  I know!  I'll stick a skull in a jar."  I love those moments. 

The Habsburgs may have had some of the worst underbites in history, but they sure knew how to collect. 

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