Robert Raschka: The opening of the Court Museum of Art History by Emperor Franz Joseph I on 17 October 1891, 1893, watercolo

‘Burg-Ring: view facing the suburbs with the Museums’

The Court Museums, before 1888, photograph

Volksgarten with the Kunsthistorisches Museum and the Naturhistorisches Museum

Kunsthistorisches Museum

Kunsthistorisches Museum

The Cupola Hall in the Kunsthistorisches Museum

The Cupola Hall in the Kunsthistorisches Museum

Floor of the vestibule in the Kunsthistorisches Museum

Staircase in the Kunsthistorisches Museum, c. 1910

Kunsthistorisches Museum: staircase with ceiling painting

Staircase in the Kunsthistorisches Museum

Kunsthistorisches Museum: Theseus slaying a centaur

Staircase in the Kunsthistorisches Museum with lunettes painted by Hans Makart

Staircase in the Kunsthistorisches Museum with lunettes painted by Hans Makart

Mihály von Munkácsy: Apotheosis of the Renaissance, 1888, ceiling painting above the main staircase of the Kunsthistorisches

Marble bust of Franz Joseph on the staircase, 1873, photograph

Hans Makart: Michelangelo’s Adam, lunette in the staircase of the Kunsthistorisches Museum

Gustav Klimt: Classical Greece: Pallas Athene, spandrel in the staircase of the Kunsthistorisches Museum

The palaces of art and science

Robert Raschka: The opening of the Court Museum of Art History by Emperor Franz Joseph I on 17 October 1891, 1893, watercolo

‘Burg-Ring: view facing the suburbs with the Museums’

The Court Museums, before 1888, photograph

Volksgarten with the Kunsthistorisches Museum and the Naturhistorisches Museum

Kunsthistorisches Museum

Kunsthistorisches Museum

The Cupola Hall in the Kunsthistorisches Museum

The Cupola Hall in the Kunsthistorisches Museum

Floor of the vestibule in the Kunsthistorisches Museum

Staircase in the Kunsthistorisches Museum, c. 1910

Kunsthistorisches Museum: staircase with ceiling painting

Staircase in the Kunsthistorisches Museum

Kunsthistorisches Museum: Theseus slaying a centaur

Staircase in the Kunsthistorisches Museum with lunettes painted by Hans Makart

Staircase in the Kunsthistorisches Museum with lunettes painted by Hans Makart

Mihály von Munkácsy: Apotheosis of the Renaissance, 1888, ceiling painting above the main staircase of the Kunsthistorisches

Marble bust of Franz Joseph on the staircase, 1873, photograph

Hans Makart: Michelangelo’s Adam, lunette in the staircase of the Kunsthistorisches Museum

Gustav Klimt: Classical Greece: Pallas Athene, spandrel in the staircase of the Kunsthistorisches Museum

The Emperor commissioned two monumental museums in the immediate vicinity of the palace, one dedicated to the arts – the Kunsthistorisches Museum – and the other to the natural sciences, the Naturhistorisches Museum. However, they are first and foremost monuments to the collecting activities of generations of Habsburgs and only secondarily buildings for art and science.

That must have been an extraordinarily difficult task; I am always delighted when I see something of yours.

Report in the Neue Freie Presse, 18 October 1891, on the opening of the Kunsthistorisches Museum the previous day.

Robert Raschka: The opening of the Court Museum of Art History by Emperor Franz Joseph I on 17 October 1891, 1893, watercolo

‘Burg-Ring: view facing the suburbs with the Museums’

The Court Museums, before 1888, photograph

Volksgarten with the Kunsthistorisches Museum and the Naturhistorisches Museum

Kunsthistorisches Museum

Kunsthistorisches Museum

The Cupola Hall in the Kunsthistorisches Museum

The Cupola Hall in the Kunsthistorisches Museum

Floor of the vestibule in the Kunsthistorisches Museum

Staircase in the Kunsthistorisches Museum, c. 1910

Kunsthistorisches Museum: staircase with ceiling painting

Staircase in the Kunsthistorisches Museum

Kunsthistorisches Museum: Theseus slaying a centaur

Staircase in the Kunsthistorisches Museum with lunettes painted by Hans Makart

Staircase in the Kunsthistorisches Museum with lunettes painted by Hans Makart

Mihály von Munkácsy: Apotheosis of the Renaissance, 1888, ceiling painting above the main staircase of the Kunsthistorisches

Marble bust of Franz Joseph on the staircase, 1873, photograph

Hans Makart: Michelangelo’s Adam, lunette in the staircase of the Kunsthistorisches Museum

Gustav Klimt: Classical Greece: Pallas Athene, spandrel in the staircase of the Kunsthistorisches Museum

On 17 October 1891 Emperor Franz Joseph opened the new Kunsthistorisches Museum. The imperial carriage drew up punctually at 11 o’clock sharp. For two and a half hours the Emperor viewed the collections conscientiously and thoroughly. Afterwards the artists, industrialists and foremen who had collaborated on the building were presented. Franz Joseph expressed his satisfaction with diplomatic reserve: ‘Everything has turned out very well – the building is as beautiful as the arrangement is practical. Only now can the objects be seen to their full advantage’.
However, before this stage was reached and the overflowing imperial collections which had hitherto been kept in unsuitable conditions in the Hofburg had been installed in the appropriate setting, much time had passed. The construction of the two Court Museums had taken more than ten years and cost enormous sums of money. Franz Joseph had wanted new buildings to house the dynastic collections right from the time the Ringstrasse was being planned. In 1864 the decision was taken to build a museum of art and a natural history museum facing the Hofburg across the boulevard. Work on the two almost identical domed structures designed in the Italian Renaissance style began in 1871. By 1881 the external shell of the two museums had been completed.

In keeping with Historicist notions, the magnificent interiors were intended to unite with the architecture to form a Gesamtkunstwerk. The decoration of the Kunsthistorisches Museum was not completed until 1891. Hans Makart had been the original choice for the ceiling frescos in the stairwell. After his death Gustav Klimt together with his ‘artists’ company’ – his brother Ernst and Franz Matsch – took over the decoration of the spandrel images. The three young artists received the commission as the Emperor was so pleased with the frescos they had recently completed in the Burgtheater.

Julia Teresa Friehs