Guide to Visiting the Belvedere Palace: On The Art Trail in Vienna
What could be better than outstanding art displayed and enjoyed in outstanding architecture? Here's my guide to visiting the Belvedere Palace in Vienna Austria.
The Belvedere Palace is one of Vienna's most visited tourist spots and an important UNESCO site for its showy architectural ensemble. The Belvedere is also one of Europe's most important museums. It's definitely the best museum in Vienna. So if you'll only make one "art stop," this is the place to choose.
The Belvedere's a haven of Baroque and Austrian art from the 19th and 20th centuries. Its main claim to fame is the world's largest collection of Gustav Klimt paintings, including the world famous The Kiss. It also boasts masterworks by Egon Schiele and Oskar Kokoschka, two important Expressionist painters.
I adore this period of art history -- the late 19th and early 20th century. It was the beginning of Modernism, an exciting time when fresh ideas were embraced and established old master traditions thrown off. When painting's subjects, techniques, and colors grew radical, infused by emotionality.
If you love this period of modern art, or just want to cross The Kiss off your bucket list, the Belvedere is a must see site in Vienna. And you'll also have a sweeping view of the beautiful Baroque city.
History and Different Sections of the Belvedere Museum
The Belvedere Palace was built in 1712-23 by Johann Lucas von Hildebrandt, a master Baroque architect. It was the swishy summer residence of Prince Eugene of Savoy, a legendary military leader of his time. It was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2001.
The palace first opened as a museum in 1781. The imperial collection was moved to the Upper Belvedere. Its Picture Gallery was one of the world's first public museums.
The Lower Belvedere opened in 1903. Shortly after, the Ministry of Culture went on a spending spree, purchasing, among other things, Klimt's The Kiss in 1908.
In 1992, the two palaces underwent extensive renovation. The collection was restructured and rebranded. In 2002, the 20er Pavilion was created for the world fair. It was later renamed Belvedere 21. Now, the museum has three locations: the Upper Belvedere, Lower Belvedere, and Belvedere 21.
1. Upper Belvedere
The Upper Belvedere was Prince Eugene's ceremonial offices. Today, the vast majority of the museum's important art is stashed in the sumptuous Upper Belvedere.
In particular, it features 24 luscious paintings by Klimt. It also holds masterpieces by Austria's other favorite sons, Schiele and Kokoschka, works of French Impressionism, and works from the Vienna Biedermeier.
2. Lower Belvedere
Although the Upper Belvedere has the Klimt fame, the Lower Belvedere also has some high quality art and architecture. It was built between 1712-16. The Upper and Lower Belvedere are connected by a formal French gardens that run downhill between the two palaces.
While the Upper Belvedere was "for show" -- announcing Prince Eugene was rich and powerful -- the Lower Belvedere served as the residential palace. And why not build two grand palaces, under the theory that more is more. Check out the Hall of Grotesques, the Marble Gallery, and the Golden Room.
Adjacent to the Lower Belvedere was the Winter Palace, or Orangery, and the Royal Stables. The Orangery, as its name portends, used to house orange trees because the prince loved oranges.
Now, its home to a collection of sacred medieval art. If you buy a combo pass, you can inspect the building. It also sometimes hosts exhibitions.