Shedding New Light on the Habsburgs at the Heart of European History

Date Oct 24, 2022

- The National Museum of Korea to Present the Special Exhibition Six Centuries of Beauty in the Habsburg Empire -

- Title: Six Centuries of Beauty in the Habsburg Empire

- Period: October 25 (Tue.), 2022 – March 1 (Wed.), 2023

- Venue: Special Exhibition Gallery in the National Museum of Korea

- Displayed Works: 96 items including Infanta Margarita Teresa in a White Dress

- Hosts: The National Museum of Korea, Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien in Austria, and The Korea Economic Daily


Starting October 25 (Tue.), the National Museum of Korea (Director General: Yoon Sung Yong) will be hosting the exhibition Six Centuries of Beauty in the Habsburg Empire in partnership with Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien in Austria to celebrate the 130th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Austria and Korea.


Understanding the Habsburgs, the Most Influential Ruling House in Europe


Ruling over large portions of Europe over more than 600 years from Rudolf I’s election as Holy Roman Emperor in 1273 until the collapse of the regime of Charles I in 1918, the Habsburgs were continually at the heart of European history. The family governed such vast territories at one point that their holdings earned the nickname “an empire on which the sun never set.” They were deeply intertwined in major historical events such as the Thirty Years’ War, Wars of Spanish and Austrian Succession, and World War I.


The Habsburgs were patrons of many prominent painters who hold significant positions in Western art history, including Rubens, Velázquez, and Van Dyck. Many of them were collectors recognized for their discerning eye. Drawing upon their passion for collecting and distinct philosophy on the arts, artworks once possessed by the Habsburgs were gathered at Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien, thereby becoming assets of all humanity and available to people beyond Austria. The ninety-six works that will be presented in this exhibition are masterpieces collected by the House of Habsburg from the fifteenth century through the early twentieth century, including major artworks from the Renaissance and Baroque periods. This exhibition will offer an opportunity to view the House of Habsburg, which is more often discussed in the context of history, through its collection of artworks.


Appreciating the Art and History of the Habsburgs


This exhibition exploring the history of the collections of the House of Habsburg consists of five sections. It examines the roles of principal collectors like emperors and archdukes spanning from Maximilian I, who laid the foundations of Habsburg hegemony in Europe in the fifteenth century, through the early twentieth century. The Habsburgs collected artworks from several European countries, such as the Czech Republic, Spain, and the Netherlands, and transferred them to the capital Vienna. The exhibition focuses on the process of compiling these artworks collected over the course of 600 years at Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien.


Prologue: Plus Ultra, the Rise of the Habsburgs introduces how the House of Habsburg rose in the ranks of the European elite with Maximilian I, who took the throne as ruler of the Holy Roman Empire in 1508, as the central figure.


The first section, Emperor's 'Kunstkammer' in Prague, spotlights Emperor Rudolf II, who actively engaged in collecting in his capital Prague in the sixteenth century. Known for a discerning eye for art, he displayed rare artworks in his “kunstkammer” (cabinet of curiosities). His collections eventually formed the foundation of the crafts gallery of Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien. Among the objects exhibited in this section are various craftworks, including a cruciform sundial and a gold-filigree basket.


The second section, The Museum in the Ambras Castle in Tyrol, introduces Archduke Ferdinand II. While ruling Tyrol, the western region of Austria, he created a special space within Ambras Castle for displaying his collections. He even personally designed the display cases and specified the locations for the objects on display. In this section, two sixteenth-century craftworks made from rare coconuts, precious items imported to Europe at the time, are presented.


The third section, The City of Art, Vienna, features key works that built the reputation of the painting gallery of Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien. Artworks that were collected by the Spanish Habsburgs over the course of two centuries starting from Charles V joined top-notch paintings from Italy and Flanders that were collected by Archduke Leopold  Wilhelm, who served as the Governor of the Spanish Netherlands in Brussels. All of them were eventually brought to the capital Vienna. They formed the heart of the collection of Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien. Some of the masterpieces exhibited in this section include Infanta Margarita Teresa in a White Dress by Diego Velázquez, Philemon and Baucis Giving Hospitality to Jupiter and Mercury by Peter Paul Rubens, and the portrait of Jacomo de Cachiopin by Anthony van Dyck.


The fourth section, Exhibitions in the Palace, examines the reign of Maria Theresa in the eighteenth century. She wished to transfer the collections of the House of Habsburg to Belvedere Palace and exhibit them there. Her son Joseph II eventually carried out her wishes when he opened the palace to the public for free. This section presents Banquet to Celebrate the Engagement of Archduchess Maria Christina and Marie Antoinette, Queen of France, both of which show the grandeur of the imperial events held in the eighteenth century.


The fifth section, Masterpieces in the Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien, sheds light on the reign of Francis Joseph I in the nineteenth century. Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien was constructed as part of the city expansion project that began in Vienna in 1857. This section displays the portraits of Emperor Franz Joseph I and Empress Elisabeth as a means to convey the sad and tragic mood pervading the imperial court at the end of the nineteenth century.


The final work showcased in this exhibition celebrating the 130th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Austria and Korea is a suit of armor and helmet gifted by King Gojong to  Franz Joseph I. Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien took them into its collection and has carefully housed them over the decades. As a token of mutual respect and friendship, the suit of armor and helmet reminds us of the meaningfulness of the diplomatic relations between Austria and Joseon Korea.


The artworks collected by the Habsburgs over the course of 600 years remain at Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien and aptly show the nature of the Habsburgs as passionate art collectors and patrons. Fully aware of the fact that art is both power and knowledge, they steadily collected artworks despite the upheavals of history. This is why new light is being cast on the heritage of the Habsburgs today when culture and artistic abilities are valued more highly than physical power. While appreciating the masterpieces on display, visitors are encouraged to think about the power of the art that the House of Habsburg preserved.


Yoon Sung Yong, the director general of the National Museum of Korea, noted that “The National Museum of Korea has endeavored to promote the public sharing of culture by introducing Korean audiences to major collections from various overseas museums. It is hoped that this exhibition will provide an opportunity to discover new aspects of the Habsburgs within the reaches of European history.”