The Museum of Fine Arts Houston Cloaked in Magnificent Opulence

by Rosie Carbo / Jun 12, 2015 /
Rosie Carbo's picture

The Museum of Fine Arts Houston will be cloaked in magnificent opulence when the exhibition “Habsburg Splendor: Masterpieces from Vienna’s Imperial Collection” opens on Sunday, June 14. 
More than 100 artifacts and paintings from such artistic icons as Titian, Caravaggio, Correggio, Rubens, Tintoretto, Velazquez, and others will be displayed in all their glory at the MFAH through September 13.

Gala carriage of the Vienna Court. From The Museum of Fine Arts Houston Cloaked in Magnificent Opulence

Gala carriage of the Vienna Court

Vienna Court Carousel Sleigh. From The Museum of Fine Arts Houston Cloaked in Magnificent Opulence

Vienna Court Carousel Sleigh

On loan from the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna, the extraordinary collection represents the Habsburg Dynasty from the Middle Ages to the 20th century. The Habsburg Dynasty was the longest-reigning European Dynasty.

Even more astonishing is that some of the art treasures have never been displayed outside of Austria. For the first time in the United States museum goers will see masterpieces such as “The Crowning with Thorns” (1602/04) by Caravaggio, Hans Holbein the Younger’s portrait of “Jane Seymour,” Queen of England and King Henry VIII’s third wife, and “Jupiter and Io” by Correggio. 

Holbein the Younger: Jane Seymour. From The Museum of Fine Arts Houston Cloaked in Magnificent Opulence

Holbein the Younger: Jane Seymour

Corregio: Jupiter and Io. From The Museum of Fine Arts Houston Cloaked in Magnificent Opulence

Corregio: Jupiter and Io

 

The exhibition also showcases Emperor Maximillian I’s armor, a bronze bust of Charles V, Empress Elizabeth’s velvet dress, Princess Kinsky’s royal evening gown, a Velazquez Portrait of Infanta Maria Teresa (1652-53) King Philip IV of Spain’s daughter and wife of Louis XIV, and the Court of Vienna’s Princess carriages, along with myriads artifacts.

Court Dress of Princess Elizabeth Kinsky. From The Museum of Fine Arts Houston Cloaked in Magnificent Opulence

Court Dress of Princess Elizabeth Kinsky

Black velvet dress belonging to Princess Elizabeth. From The Museum of Fine Arts Houston Cloaked in Magnificent Opulence

Black velvet dress belonging to Princess Elizabeth

 

The groundbreaking “Habsburg Splendor: Masterpieces from Vienna’s Imperial Collection” chronicles the rise and fall of the art-loving emperors of the Holy Roman Empire. Through the historic collections, visitors learn about the Habsburgs’ global empire.

Initially presided over by Emperor Maximillian I (1459-1519), the Habsburgs ruled from the late 16th and 17th century to the end of World War I in 1918, thanks to a succession of marriages and royal births. The vast Habsburg Empire included Hungary, Croatia, Slovenia, Czech lands and other parts of Europe. Under Charles V, the Habsburg rule even extended to America.

Thomas: Emperor Leopold. From The Museum of Fine Arts Houston Cloaked in Magnificent Opulence

Thomas: Emperor Leopold

 

The traveling exhibition made its American debut at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts in February. After its Houston run, the exhibition will travel to its final American venue at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta.  

Giorgione: The Three Philosophers. From The Museum of Fine Arts Houston Cloaked in Magnificent Opulence

Giorgione: The Three Philosophers

 

“The exhibition shows the extraordinary wide range of the Habsburgs’ collections, including masterpieces of Roman antiquity, medieval armor, early modern paintings and craftworks, as well as gorgeous carriages and clothing,” said Dr. Sabine Haag, Kunsthistorisches Museum director.

 “We’re delighted to share our museum’s unique wonders with our American friends....We hope this will inspire visitors to make the trip to Vienna to see the collection in person and to discover even more of our treasures,” she added.

The Habsburg exhibition, the saga of one of Europe’s most distinguished dynasties, unfolds via three chapters. Each chapter features a three-dimensional “tableau” made up of opulent ceremonial objects, including a Baroque ceremonial carriage and sleigh. Tableaus add context for the other works on view.

Gala Carriage of the Vienna Court. From The Museum of Fine Arts Houston Cloaked in Magnificent Opulence

Gala Carriage of the Vienna Court

 

The first section highlights 13th through 16th century objects either collected or commissioned by the Habsburgs. In the late Medieval to Renaissance period the Habsburgs hosted elaborate commemorative celebrations to show their power and establish their legitimacy. 

Works to be displayed from this illustrious period include shiny suits of armor displayed on horseback, sabers, jousting weapons from royal tournaments, and a rock crystal goblet from Emperor Frederick III (1400-1450).

All'antica Morion of Archduke Ferdinand II of Tyrol. From The Museum of Fine Arts Houston Cloaked in Magnificent Opulence

All'antica Morion of Archduke Ferdinand II of Tyrol

 

“We’re thrilled to be collaborating with our partner institutions in Minneapolis and Atlanta to bring to our audiences so many extraordinary masterpieces of European art,” said Gary Tinterow, who returned to his native Houston in 2012 to assume the position of MFAH director.  

“The selection of paintings by Giorgione, Titian, Correggio, Arcimboldo, Rubens, and Velazquez, among others, is simply staggering, and I know our visitors will be captivated by the carriages, armor liveried horses and pomp of the court costumes,” Tinterow added.

Arcimboldo: Fire. From The Museum of Fine Arts Houston Cloaked in Magnificent Opulence

Arcimboldo: Fire

 

The second and largest section of the exhibition features the 17th and 18th century Baroque Age, the zenith of the Habsburgs’ rule. Although a time of political upheaval, the Habsburgs used artworks and royal court festivities to embellish their self-image and dominance.  

Additionally, an important role of the emperor was that of defender of the Catholic faith. That’s why myriad religious art objects, such as crucifixes wrought in precious gems and metals and elaborate ecclesiastical vestments were commissioned by emperors.

Coral Saber Scabbard of of Archduke Ferdinand II of Tyrol. From The Museum of Fine Arts Houston Cloaked in Magnificent Opulence

Coral Saber Scabbard of of Archduke Ferdinand II of Tyrol

 

The exhibition concludes with works from the 19th century, representing a transition from ancient to modern under Emperor Franz Joseph. The longest ruling Habsburg and ruler of the dual monarchy of Austria-Hungary, Joseph founded the Kunsthistorisches Museum.

Velazquez: Infanta Maria Theresa. From The Museum of Fine Arts Houston Cloaked in Magnificent Opulence

 

In this final section the exhibition culminates with a spectacular display of court uniforms and dresses. Viewers will be impressed with such highlights as a campaign uniform of Franz Joseph from 1907 and the ceremonial dress of Crown Prince Otto for the Hungarian Coronation of 1916. 

Full dress uniform of an Imperial and Royal chamberlain. From The Museum of Fine Arts Houston Cloaked in Magnificent Opulence

Full dress uniform of an Imperial and Royal chamberlain

Hungarian dress uniform of a Privy Councillor. From The Museum of Fine Arts Houston Cloaked in Magnificent Opulence

Hungarian dress uniform of a Privy Councillor

 

The treasure trove of historic artworks is a once-in-a lifetime opportunity to experience the life and times of the Habsburg Dynasty, whose riches have been rescued and saved for posterity at Vienna’s Kunsthistorisches Museum.

Built in 1891, the Kunsthistorisches museum is what the Louvre is to France. It’s been a repository of exceptional historic artworks since its founding. The museum’s priceless collections comprise artworks representing seven millennia, from ancient Egypt to the late 18th century.

Titian and workshop: Danae.From The Museum of Fine Arts Houston Cloaked in Magnificent Opulence

Titian and workshop: Danae

 

The museum’s holdings are displayed in several buildings. The main building on Vienna’s Ringstrasse,   houses the Picture Gallery, Kunstkammer Wien, the Greek and Roman Antiquities collection, the Egyptian and Near Eastern Collection and the rate Coin Collection.

The Renaissance and Baroque Collections are globally significant standouts. The Neue Burg building houses other collections, including the Ephesus Museum, Historical Musical Instruments and the Armor and Arms Collections, which are part of the current traveling exhibition.

Helmschmid: light half-armor of Emperor Charles V. From The Museum of Fine Arts Houston Cloaked in Magnificent Opulence

Helmschmid: light half-armor of Emperor Charles V

 

The “Habsburg Splendor: Masterpieces from Vienna’s Imperial Collection” is organized by the Minneapolis Institute of Arts; The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; High Museum of Art, Atlanta; and Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna. The exhibition is supported by an indemnity from the Federal Council on the Arts and the Humanities.

Tintoretto: Susannah and the Elders. From The Museum of Fine Arts Houston Cloaked in Magnificent Opulence

Tintoretto: Susannah and the Elders

 

The exhibition is curated by Dr. Monica Kurzel-Runtscheiner, director of the Imperial Carriage Museum, Vienna. The lead hosting curator and director of conservation at the MFAH is Dr. David Bomford, who leads a curatorial team comprised of Dr. Helga Aurisch, European Art curator and Christine Gervais, associate curator Decorative Arts and Renzi. 

The MFAH has published a full-color catalogue with essays by Dr. Kurzel-Runtscheiner and members of the Kunsthistorisches Museum. Additionally, a virtual exhibition of additional pieces may be viewed online.

The MFAH is situated at 1001 Bissonnet in the popular Houston Arts District. The MFAH is closed on Mondays. Adult tickets are $18 each. Ticket prices for seniors and Youth 13 to 18 years old are $13.00 each. Children under the age of 12 are admitted for free. For information on museum hours and tickets, go to: www.mfah.org or call (713) 639-7300. 

 

 

Rosie Carbo is the Lifestyles Editor for Wandering Educators, and is a former newspaper reporter whose work has appeared in newspapers and magazines nationwide. Some of those publications include People magazine, The Dallas Morning News, The Houston Chronicle and San Antonio Express-News. Some of her features were redistributed by The Associated Press early in her career as an award-winning Texas journalist.

 

 

 

 

 

All photos courtesy the Museum of Fine Arts Houston