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This website is about Brazilian jiu jitsu (BJJ). I'm a black belt who started in 2006, teaching and training at Artemis BJJ in Bristol, UK. All content ©Can Sönmez

12 August 2018

Vienna, 10th-12th August 2018

Kunsthistorisches Museum

I've been wanting to go to the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna for many years: this room full of Bruegel is the main reason why. While there aren't any individual paintings here that I enjoy as much as The Fall of the Rebel Angels in Brussels, the Viennese collection is crammed with famous Bruegel masterpieces.

Bruegel was known for his peasant scenes, where he brought down the aerial perspective of his other works, becoming a participant rather than some kind of art helicopter. However, my favourite in this room is from the higher perspective, in Bruegel's Tower of Babel. What's so great about that is the remarkable level of detail. You could zero in with a magnifying glass on these figures: the whole tower is crawling with tiny activity.

On a slightly closer fly-by, the Children's Games is a fascinatingly intricate depiction of over 90 different games (lovely bit of vanishing point in the top corner, too). Some of which don't look much fun: I don't fancy playing 'Pull Random Victims Hair Out', or 'Chuck Your Friend İnto A Pile of Bricks'. 😉

Following my usual gallery pattern, after luxuriating in the Flemish, Dutch and German sections, I set off to find Parmigianino. He's one of the few Italian painters I make a point of seeking out in galleries (Artemisia being the main other one), where there will often be a painting or two. 😃

The Kunsthistorisches Museum has a Cupid by him, plus one of his most famous, Self Portrait in a Convex Mirror. He was barely 20 when he painted it (though he looks more like 12), an exercise in showing off to impress prospective patrons. İn the other painting, I particularly like the life and energy he was able to put into the expressions of the two putti. Not many painters manage that spark of life, but I think ol' Francisco Mazzola achieves it here.

İn the course of hunting for him, I bumped into a few other painters that made me pause. There's my longstanding favourite Vigee Le Brun, who has a classic Marie Antoinette portrait here. İt was potraits like these that meant Vigee Le Brun had to flee France to keep her head, as she was closely associated with the aristocracy and the queen in particular.

Then there's a painter you can't ignore, because his work is both bizarre and extremely clever: Arcimboldo. He really stands out among the surrounding paintings. Why look at yet another Madonna with Child or St Somethingorother, when you can instead enjoy a woman with a fish for a mouth and a turtle for a collarbone. 😜

To be fair to the less animal and food based work, some of the saints get to strike cool poses. Raphael's St Margaret looks kinda bad ass with a defeated dragon at her feet, though sadly she succeeded thanks to a bland crucifix. A massive battle axe would have been better. 😉

I almost walked straight past the Hieronymus Bosch altarpiece panel in the Kunsthistorisches Museum, which stands in the middle of a room in a glass cabinet. On one side is a Christ carrying the cross (and a guy who really loves trees, apparently), on the other Christ as a toddler with a walking frame.

Which I could have done with later that night, when my very awesome host Anna gave me a lesson about walking in mega heels. I have no idea how people manage to look graceful in 8 inch shoes, I spent the whole time intensely concentrating on not falling over. 😉

Plan for today is meet up in town, then I'll pop to the Belvedere at some point. That's best know for lots of Gustav Klimt: there's a sneak peek in the Kunsthistorisches Museum, as he was part of a group that painted the walls around the staircase. 😃

The Upper Belvedere

The Upper Belvedere (where the permanent art collection lives, there's a lower with temporary exhibitions) is famous for tourist magnet The Kiss, by Klimt. I wanted to build up to that (and hopefully winnow out the crowds) by checking everything else out first.

There are medieval altarpieces downstairs, with intricately carved wooden examples including a whole bunch of cool weapons. You also get to see some of Franz Xavier Messerschmidt's gurning busts, their pinched faces perhaps the most unusual sculptures of the 18th century.

I also liked the professional, hardworking putti building a railway in Hans Canon's 1876 painting, showing up their rather lazier, playful putti ancestors from a few hundred years earlier. I guess times were tough for 19th century putti, they had to go get a real job instead of waving flowers, lifting banners and blowing trumpets. 😜

I found the contrast between these next two paintings of the same person cool. The sitter is Empress Elisabeth, who was clearly more than a little vain as she banned any photographs of herself after 31. 😉

On the left, a traditional state portrait, by Georg Martin Ignaz Raab (1874). On the right, a much more interesting interpretation by Anton Tomako (1883). His elongated portrait, right down to the stretched fingers, looks Mannerist to me. A successor to El Greco, perhaps. 😃

Klimt is what brings most people in to the Upper Belvedere, then the other big name is Egon Schiele. He was obsessed with death, sadly dying young during a flu epidemic. His painting reflect that disturbing focus on mortality, as almost everything looks dead.

The titular kids in Mother with Two Children İİİ look like they've wandered in from a horror movie about terrifying Chuckie-style dolls that have gone on a murderous spree. Then there are the hands of the supposed 9 nine year old child in another painting, which it seems like he's stolen from somebody at least 50 years older and stitched to his arms.

The Embrace is the closest to warm, living humans, though the colours and angularity give that a certain menace too. İ found Schiele's depiction of the wildly flowing hair is appealing, in the top right of the painting.

Audio guide coverage can be annoying sometimes, missing out paintings I'd like to learn more about. E.g., The Flood, which presumably refers to the Biblical story. However, it's got people praying to a crucifix, well before Christ's time, so set in a different period, I'd guess? Also, interesting Japanese influence in elements like the wave patterns was intriguing. I'll just have to Google. 😉

I'll finish with Klimt. The Kiss gets lots of attention from tourists and also critics. Some of them, like the audio guide, emphasises tenderness and passionate love. 😍

Others read it quite differently: they point out the woman's head is turned away, and argue her expression reveals she is not a willing participant. They also feel that her hands are trying to push him away, not hold him closer. ✋

I'm not sure, but then Gustav Klimt could certainly do dark. His Judith is the very epitome of a femme fatale: not only does she look smokily seductive, she has Holofernes' severed head in her hand, proof of her power. İt puts me in mind of Conan style sword and sorcery epics, which are full of that kind of thing. ⚔

He could manage less charged paintings too, like his (very) pink portrait of a patron, Sonja Knips. That was produced between 1897-1898, whereas The Kiss was 1908 and Judith was 1901.

Leopold Museum

My final art museum choice for this first visit to Vienna is the Leopold Museum. That means even more Klimt and Schiele, who are explored in depth by the collection.

Perhaps unsurprisingly for a museum set up by an art historian (the eponymous Professor Rudolf Leopold), there is a careful chronological layout and highly informative audio guide for the Klimt section. Although there aren't that many major paintings, the museum does a great job making the most of what it has.

There are cabinets full of old photographs, letters, posters, preparatory drawings, sketchbooks and even original furniture from Klimt's first studio. There are a couple of major paints too, such as Death and Life, along with the unfinished and super pervy The Bride (which has loads of associated drawings, most interestingly that sketchbook).

Be aware that this is a very NSFW kind of museum, as Klimt was a big fan of drawing masturbating women. You could try and argue it's empowering, with women taking control of their sexuality, but as the museum info notes, it's all from the male gaze. So, the porn version of female sexuality, still more objectification than consciousness raising.

Unfortunately for my taste, the Leopold Museum eschews the chronological approach for its extensive Egon Schiele collection, plumping for 'themes' instead. İt does provide a detailed timeline on the wall though, which is handy, similar to the one upstairs for Klimt (plus things like sketchbooks and photos again).

As with everything Schiele, the paintings have a deathly pallor, angular figures staring back with anxious misery. Even the cityscapes have the same mood, inanimate walls and roofs managing to take on the classic Schiele corpse chic. The early works are less undead, though the woman in the top left from 1908 doesn't exactly look happy. As Schiele died young in 1918, 'early' is followed by late in a few short years.

His famously disturbing self portrait with no hands or feet follows in 1910 in the top right, where that icky shade of yellow makes him look doused in dried wee. Demonically red eyes (and nipples, for some reason) up the weird further. Then he gets right into the graveyard with The Hermits from 1912 (bottom left), possibly a portrait of himself with Klimt, a major inspiration. However, the audio guide suggests it could also be his father. Either way, Schiele's companion looks very dead.

All the way upstairs (4th floor) are more Schiele, among a variety of artists. The 1918 drawing by him looks entirely normal, almost like it's by a different artist. You can also see the strong influence of Klimt in his earlier work, such as the 1907 Water Spirits I (last pic when you swipe through).

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