Photo: Bildnis der Maria de Tassis by Anthonis van Dyck


Vienna's Newest Temple of the Arts

On 28 March 2004, the Liechtenstein Museum in the Liechtenstein garden palace opened its doors to present selected masterpieces from the Princely Collections in Vaduz, one of the most beautiful and important private collections in the world.

The Prince of Liechtenstein’s collections were an essential part of Vienna’s museum scene until 1938.   One of the main attractions of a metropolis of art, rich in significant private collections, its treasures were to be found in all art guides. As a precaution in a time of war, the Princely Collections’ were brought to Vienna from different locations and transferred to Vaduz.

The magnificent collection has not been on show in Vienna since those times.

The exhibition of masterpieces from four centuries, from the Early Renaissance to Austrian Romanticism, includes the most outstanding works by Raphael, Guido Reni, Peter Paul Rubens, Pieter Breughel the Younger and Jan Breughel the Elder, Anthony van Dyck, Frans Hals, Rembrandt, Rudolf von Alt, Ferdinand Georg Waldmüller, Friedrich von Amerling, and Francesco Hayez.  Sculptures by artists like Antico, Andrea Mantegna, Giambologna, Adrian de Fries, and Antonio Canova round off the collection of paintings.


With exhibitions of masterpieces on an area of 2,300 square metres on two floors, the Liechtenstein Museum becomes a world of pleasures, where all genres of art unfold their fascination as integral parts of a historical ensemble. With the ambience of the Liechtenstein garden palace as a backdrop, the atmospherically compact composition comprising paintings, sculptures, Kunstkammer items, tapestries, and pieces of furniture, revives the Princely Collections’ splendour believed lost for a long time at its old site.

The opening of the Liechtenstein Museum will also make rooms accessible to the public which previously were closed to visitors.  This includes: the glorious Library in the former Gentlemen’s Apartment and the rooms of the Ladies’ Apartment, which boast Johann Michael Rottmayr’s cleaned colourful frescoes and will be used for changing exhibitions.

The tour through the galleries on the upper floor offers a survey encompassing the main periods of European art history. The masterpieces presented in an authentic context range from early Italian religious paintings to works by Rubens, Van Dyck, Frans Hals, and representatives of Holland’s golden age of painting like Rembrandt, which are mounted in Baroque style.

A further highlight of the tour is the Hercules Hall, which, with its 600 square metres, is the largest secular Baroque room in Vienna. Its magnificent ceiling fresco by Andrea Pozzo grants a glimpse of the gods’ Olympic abode, while Hercules’ deeds are depicted above the molding. Visitors will be able to admire the hall without any disturbing installations and objects; it will be used only for concerts and other events.

In the spacious Sala Terrena visitors may view the most beautiful surviving French state coach, the Imperial Ambassador to Paris Prince Joseph Wenzel of Liechtenstein’s Golden Carriage. Joseph II’s bride, Isabella of Parma, also used the magnificent coach for her triumphant entrée into Vienna.

Parts of the historic gardens will also be accessible to the public. They will offer a place to relax, which, as an oasis in the city with its restaurants and terraces, concerts, and matinees, rekindles the joie de vivre of Baroque times. The two restaurants Ruben’s Brasserie and Ruben’s Palais seat 140 people and can be visited when the museum is closed.

To be able to present the masterpieces in adequate surroundings, the entire palace was adapted and restored in accordance with the new requirements. The refurbishment started in January 2001, has now been completed with the exception of the restoration work on the rediscovered Rottmayr frescoes in the two stairways.  The façade was restored in a traditional lime-wash technique. Together with the artworks
presented, the visitor will find a Baroque gesamtkunstwerk that responds to present-day expectations, ideas, and desires.


The Liechtenstein garden palace in the Rossau (meaning ‘horse meadow’, today a part of Vienna’s 9th district) was built under Prince Johann Adam Andreas I of Liechtenstein (1657–1712), who, commissioning a number of castles and palaces such as in Valtice (Feldsberg) and Lednice (Eisgrub) in today’s Moravia, Czech Republic, and in Vienna, was one of the greatest patrons of architecture in his time.

Initially, it was Johann Bernhard Fischer von Erlach (1656–1723) who was to design his garden palace.  Later, the Prince chose the Bologna-trained Domenico Egidio Rossi (1659–1715). After 1692, Rossi’s concept was taken up by the architect Domenico Martinelli (1650–1718) from Lucca, who eventually finalized the idea of a mighty Roman palace.

The Bologna-based artist Marcantonio Franceschini (1648–1729) was hired to furnish paintings for the building. The stucco decorations of the entire palace were made by Santino Bussi (1664–1736). They are a rare example of Baroque stuccowork in Vienna free from the embellishments that were commonly added in the late 19th century.

In 1705, Johann Michael Rottmayr (1654–1730) was commissioned with the fresco cycles in the Sala Terrena and in the stairways. These frescoes were covered up in the 19th century with large ceiling paintings by Antonio Bellucci (1654–1726), which were brought in from another palace of the family; the remaining ceiling surfaces were plastered over. It was only in the course of the recent renovation of the building that Rottmayr’s works were rediscovered and given new lustre through careful restoration. The highlight of decorative artwork in the Liechtenstein garden palace is the monumental ceiling fresco in the Hercules Hall, begun in 1704, by Andrea Pozzo, the great master of Roman Baroque.

Another focus of Prince Johann Adam Andreas I of Liechtenstein’s designing ambitions was on the palace gardens. Together with the Belvedere gardens, the originally Baroque Liechtenstein gardens were the most impressive example of Baroque garden art in Vienna.  With their sculptures by Giovanni Giuliani (1663–1774) and their large variety of ornamental plantings, they constituted a self-contained horticultural cosmos that was reconfigured into a vast English-style landscape garden in the 19th century.


The beginnings of the outstanding collection date back to the 17th century. Like many other collections of this period, it is rooted in the Baroque ideal of an appreciative princely patronage of the arts. For generations, the House of Liechtenstein has remained true to this ideal and systematically extended its holdings until today.

It was Prince Karl I of Liechtenstein (1569–1627) who laid the foundations for the Princely Collections.  Appointed Emperor Rudolf II’s High Steward in Prague, he commissioned Adrian de Fries to make two bronzes: a life-size “Christ in Distress” and a “Saint Sebastian”.

The collection was extended considerably by Karl I’s son, Karl Eusebius of Liechtenstein (1611–1684).  His rule also saw the beginnings of the House of Liechtenstein’s “building craze” as evinced by numerous castles and palaces in Moravia, Lower Austria, and Vienna. In his “Treatise on Architecture,” he advises his son Johann Adam Andreas I of Liechtenstein that money should be used only for building “beautiful monuments as everlasting and immortal memorials.”

Prince Johann Adam Andreas I of Liechtenstein (1657–1712) acquired important works by Peter Paul Rubens, such as the Decius Mus Cycle, Anthony van Dyck, and other masters of the Flemish Baroque.

When Prince Joseph Wenzel of Liechtenstein (1696–1772), Ambassador to Paris, commissioned French masters such as Hyacinthe Rigaud, the world of French painting began to play a more important role within the collection. He also engaged  Bernardo Bellotto to paint the two views of the garden palace in the Rossau that date from about 1759.

Instead of restoring the Baroque structure in Vienna’s Herrengasse, Prince Alois I of Liechtenstein (1759–1805) asked Joseph Hardtmuth to build a new Majoratshaus, including a library for which he purchased complete collections. This library was to be transferred to the Liechtenstein garden palace in the early 20th century.

The Prince had a unique cosmos of landscape gardens built near Lednice (Eisgrub) and Valtice (Feldsberg) in Moravia, which remain a paradise for art and nature lovers to this day.

Prince Johann I of Liechtenstein (1760–1836) focused his attention on purchasing Dutch and important Italian masters. In 1807, he moved the gallery from the Majoratshaus in Vienna’s Bankgasse to the garden palace in the Rossau.

In his predecessors’ wake, Prince Alois II of Liechtenstein (1796–1858) collected works by contemporary painters, part of which he commissioned. His initiative laid the foundations for the unique collection of Vienna Biedermeier works.

The interests of Prince Johannes II of Liechtenstein (1840–1929) centered on artists of the 14th, 15th, and 16th centuries. Advised by Wilhelm Bode, who wrote the first illustrated monograph on the Princely Collections in 1896, he acquired masterpieces of early Italian and Dutch painting. He made considerable donations to other museums in Vienna and Moravia. The benefiting museums included the Kunsthistorische Museum Vienna, the Picture Gallery of the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna (early Italian paintings), as well as the Historical Museum of the City of Vienna (mainly Biedermeier and late 19th-century works; this donation was the core of this institution’s collection of paintings).

Today, the Princely Collections comprise about 1,500 pictures including masterpieces from Early Renaissance to Austrian Romanticism, as well as works by Lucas Cranach the Elder, Raphael, Guido Reni, Pieter Breughel the Younger, Jan Breughel the Elder, Peter Paul Rubens, Anthony van Dyck, Frans Hals, Rembrandt, Rudolf von Alt, Ferdinand Georg Waldmüller, and Francesco Hayez.

The collection of Italian bronzes with its emphasis on masterpieces of the 16th and 17th centuries, is of equal art-historical importance.  Besides these paintings and sculptures of the first order, the Princely Collections also include essential holdings of pietra dura works, enamelwork, ivory articles, parade arms, porcelain, tapestries, and pieces of furniture once used for the family’s castles and palaces.  Continuing this active acquisition policy, the Reigning Prince Hans-Adam II of Liechtenstein (born in 1945) has pointed the way to the future of the collection with his spectacular purchases.


From the 18th century until 1938, the collectors’ and museum scene in Vienna evolved from two spheres:  collections of the imperial family, which later provided the basis for the federal museums of the Republic of Austria, and the collections of the high nobility, of earls and princes.

The fates and paths of these collections are diverse; some of them were utterly scattered, others became merged in other collections.  With the return of the Prince of Liechtenstein's collection to Vienna on 28 March 2004, this almost forgotten aspect of Vienna’s rich cultural life comes into focus again. Thus the idea suggested itself to consider the position of the other extant private collections of the Austrian aristocracy, and to integrate them in this return to public attention.

PRIVATE ART COLLECTIONS is a loose association and interchange platform between these collections to organize joint exhibition projects in the future, to assist each other in complementing the respective collections, to make a joint appearance on the international exhibition scene, and to launch other events such as musical concerts.

Due to its size and quality, the most important among these aristocratic collections indubitably was the Liechtenstein collection, which, incidentally, was opened to the general public early on. Alongside with it, there were many others, such as the family collection of the Counts Harrach, the Esterházy collection, the Schönborn-Buchheim collection, the Czernin collection, the Lamberg collection, and the Metternich
and Kaunitz collections.

Paintings from the Schönborn-Buchheim Collection will be included in the opening exhibition of the Liechtenstein Museum.  During the winter half-year, when the Count Harrach Family Collection is closed, objects from the collection will be shown in temporary exhibitions in the Liechtenstein garden palace in the Rossau.  Joint exhibition projects of all partner collections are scheduled as of 2006.

Ed. Note  We are grateful to The Leichtenstein Museum, The Vienna Tourist Board and the Austrian National Tourist Office for the materials which we present in this article.  All photos courtesy of The Leichtenstein Musuem.

For additional information concerning The Leichtenstein Museum, please follow this link.

For tourism information about Vienna, please follow this link

For tourism information about Austria, please follow this link