The Kunsthistorisches Museum is an art museum in Vienna, Austria. Housed in its festive palatial building on Ringstraße, it is crowned with an octagonal dome. The term Kunsthistorisches Museum applies to both the institution and the main building. It is the largest art museum in the country.
The Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna is one of the foremost museums in the world, with rich holdings comprising artworks from seven millennia – from Ancient Egypt to the late 18th century.
The collections of Renaissance and Baroque art are of particular importance. The KHMs extensive holdings are on show at different locations:The main building on Ringstrasse houses the Picture Gallery, the Collection of Greek and Roman Antiquities, the Egyptian and Near Eastern Collection, the Coin Collection, and the Kunstkammer that will reopen in February 2012. Other collections of the Kunsthistorisches Museum are housed in the Neue Burg (the Collection of Historical Musical Instruments, the Collection of Arms and Armour, and the Ephesus Museum), in Hofburg Palace (the Treasury), and in Schoenbrunn Palace (the Collection of Historical Carriages).
The collections on show at Ambras Palace are also part of the holdings of the Kunsthistorisches Museum. 2001the Museum of Ethnology on Heldenplatz and the Austrian Theatre Museum on Lobkowitz Square have been incorporated into the KHM. The Planning of the Ringstrasse began in 1857 and included the project to bring together and show the imperial collections in a grand new building featuring state-of-the-art technical and display facilities; it took, however, another ten years until the competition to design the new museums was actually held.
The architects who participated in 1867 were Hansen, Lehr, Ferstel and Hasenauer, all of whom worked in Vienna. When jury and patron failed for months to agree on a winner, Gottfried Semper, the internationally-renowned architect known for his museum designs, was called in as an advisor in 1868.
The Emperor then decided to commission Semper to alter and complete the plans initially presented by Hasenauer. He also enlarged them. His designs were informed by urban planning in ancient Rome to create what was known as the imperial forum: He envisaged an additional also symmetrical – pair of buildings aligned with the two museums, each of which featured a semi-circular facade. These two buildings were to flank the Hofburg’s Leopoldinische Trakt (the wing of the old palace erected under Emperor Leopold) for which Semper planned a modern facade and that would house the throne room. However, only the two museums and the part of the Neue Burg (new palace) facing the Burggarten (palace garden) were realised. Work on the museums commenced in 1871 and twenty years later, in 1891, they were formally opened to the public.
Semper had moderated Hasenauer original design for the fades and they now feature a complex art-historical programme of sculptures and reliefs. The building’s internal structure combines two architectural traditions: entrance hall, staircase and cupola hall form a dramatic unit that celebrates the imperial patron and his predecessors. An additional elegant feature is the circular opening in the ceiling of the entrance hall that offers visitors their first glimpse of the cupola hall.
Ascending the stairs, visitors pass Antonio Canova’s “Theseus Slaying the Centaur” on their way to the cupola hall, the apex of imperial display. Along this central axis a wealth of neo-baroque decorations create one of the most solemn and splendid interiors of late-nineteenth-century Vienna, probably unrivalled in any other European museum.
The collections of the Museum of Art History, originating in particular from the former Austrian imperial collections of the Habsburg dynasty, bring together works ranging from Egyptian and Greek antiquity to the eighteenth century in the field of decorative arts, paint.
On the ground floor and at the mezzanine are the Egyptian and Near Eastern collections as well as the Greek, Etruscan and Roman antiquities. On the mezzanine are sculptures and decorative arts.
The entire first floor is devoted to painting: the left wing is reserved for the Flemish, Dutch and German schools; The right wing, to the Italian, Spanish and French schools.
On the second floor, the halls of the adjoining gallery (Sekundärgalerie) gather hundreds of Flemish, German and Italian works from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.
The museum has the largest collection of works by Pieter Brueghel the Elder; Seventeen in all, including the famous paintings La Tour de Babel (1563) and Chasseurs dans la neige (1565).
The museum’s primary collections are those of the Habsburgs, particularly from the portrait and armour collections of Ferdinand of Tirol, the collections of Emperor Rudolph II (the largest part of which is, however, scattered), and the collection of paintings of Archduke Leopold Wilhelm, of which his Italian paintings were first documented in the Theatrum Pictorium.