Like many royal families, the Hapsburgs were avid art collectors. Rulers of the Austro-Hungarian Empire for centuries they had ample means, time, and opportunity to scour the continent for the finest available over many generations. The results of many of their efforts are housed in the Kunsthistorisches.
While the name in medieval German would be translated something like ‘history of craft’ (and now as ‘art history’) there is no doubt that the contents are fine art. Within the walls of the various museums are some of the most well-known names in the world in that particular craft.
The museum complex has at its core two separate palaces erected during the 19th century, along with several smaller adjunct areas. The grand staircase of the main building provides the starting point to the picture galleries (the Gemaldegalerie). The paintings remain among the most often visited works of the collection and it’s not hard to see why.
The Martyrdom of Saint Sebastian from the mid-15th century is one reason. The Young Woman at her Toilet by Bellini, painted in 1515, is another. There are also several Caravaggios, including David with the Head of Goliath and Madonna of the Rosary. There are hundreds of works of the Flemish and Dutch masters along with 16th-century Venetian paintings. The KHM boasts the most comprehensive collection of Brueghels of any museum in the world.
The Spanish are well represented, too, and include numerous portraits by Velazquez of the various Hapsburg family members. One entire room is devoted to nothing but paintings of the royal family by this master of the early to the mid-17th century.
Many more modern works are not hard to find, either. Klimt is well represented, along with several other Viennese artists of the late 19th-early 20th centuries. Temporary exhibits often feature contemporary artists, as well.
But those interested in other forms of art will be equally satisfied. A golden salt cellar by Cellini is part of the collection. In the Egyptian section, there is a bust of King Thutmosis III. Sculpture and decorative objet d’arts can be found in the Kunstkammer (art chamber). There is a large museum devoted to Carriages and Court Uniforms, as well. The royal coin collections are well-regarded by numismatists everywhere.
Egyptian and Near Eastern Antiquities comprise yet another collection. Ancient artifacts from Greece and Rome fill large wings. Arms and Armor are found in a separate area called the Ephesus Museum. The collection of Ancient Musical Instruments are technically part of the KHM, too. Both are housed in the Imperial Palace, rather than the main building on Maria Theresienplatz. Items in Schonbrunn Palace also fall under the same official KHM umbrella.
Whatever period or style of art is your favorite, you’ll find it in abundance at the Kunsthistorisches.