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Exhibition at The Belvedere traces the impact of Maria Theresa's cultural commitment
Exhibition view "Maria Theresa and the Arts". Photo: Johannes Stoll © Belvedere, Vienna.


VIENNA.- The Belvedere has seized Maria Theresa’s 300th birthday as an occasion to elucidate her relationship to the visual arts. For the exhibition, curator Georg Lechner has brought to light a number of exciting details. For example, Maria Theresa was extremely openminded and unbiased in her approach to art. Comprising some 120 works, the show traces the impact of the Austrian sovereign’s cultural commitment on posterity.

Divided into six sections, the exhibition examines Maria Theresa’s approach to the visual arts. The empress was well aware of her official responsibilities as the country’s figurehead. As a tight budget only allowed her to acquire works by old masters to a limited extent, Maria Theresa concentrated above all on contemporary artists of all genres and disciplines. She had the courage to opt for unconventional solutions and an extremely progressive understanding of art. The monarch’s acquisition policy has left an ever-lasting imprint on parts of the Belvedere’s collections.

“In order to get visitors into the right mood for the period, the first section of our exhibition will present outstanding examples of portraiture , a genre that saw a veritable boom in Maria Theresa’s days. Martin van Meytens the Younger, who probably best suited the imperial household’s taste, was one of her favourite portraitists,” says curator Georg Lechner. Besides a number of other artists, the empress also greatly appreciated the work of Jean-Etienne Liotard.

A further chapter of the show deals with the sculptor Balthasar Ferdinand Moll, who also ranked among the empress’s favourites and whom she entrusted with numerous commissions. His masterpiece is the double sarcophagus for the monarch and her husband, Francis Stephen, which is still installed in the Imperial Crypt. Duplicates of the side reliefs featuring scenes from the imperial couple’s life are on display in the exhibition.

Wilhelm Beyer had been a model master at the Ludwigsburg porcelain factory before the imperial household commissioned him with the sculptural decoration of Schönbrunn’s palace gardens in 1773. In order to complete the large-scale project, which comprised thirty-six statues, in time, as many as sixteen assistants were engaged, all of whom became influential figures in the field of sculpture. A further section of the exhibition is therefore devoted to Beyer and his circle.

Another chapter is exclusively devoted to Maria Theresa’s relationship to the Belvedere. The monarch purchased the building complex and the palace gardens from Princess Victoria, Prince Eugene of Savoy’s niece, in 1752, but took her time to assign a particular purpose to the place. “It had been Maria Theresa’s decision together with her son Joseph II. to move t he imperial collection from the Imperial Stables to Prince Eugene’s former official residence.

In 1777 she made the Belvedere accessible for all citizens as an educational institution and museum. The paintings presented in our exhibition were already part of the collection then,” Stella Rollig, Director-General of the Belvedere, points out.

A further section focuses on landscape painting in general and on Johann Christian Brand in particular. Appointed chamber painter in 1765 and later holding a chair at the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts, the artist developed into the period’s leading landscapist. Maria Theresa commissioned from him the compositions Heron-Hawking in Laxenburg and The Battle of Hochkirch as part of the decoration of her imperial residences. Both paintings are now preserved at the Belvedere.

Last but not least, a chapter of its own deals with preliminary designs for ceiling frescoes and allegories. A characteristic feature of the Habsburg Empire under Maria Theresa, they served to glorify the imperial dynasty. The exhibition presents oil sketches by Franz Anton Maulbertsch, Gregorio Guglielmi, Daniel Gran, and many others. Some of their monumental realisations have survived and invite visitors to go on a discovery tour of Vienna and its surroundings following in Maria Theresa’s footsteps.

Different from familiar historical portrayals, Maria Theresa and the Arts highlights new aspects of the famous Habsburg empress’s personality.

The exhibition is accompanied by a catalogue.






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