The Habsburgs: Rarely Seen Masterpieces from Europe’s Greatest Dynasty

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Major Traveling Exhibition of Masterpieces from the Austrian Habsburg Dynasty

Brings Imperial Splendor to the MIA, MFAH, and High in 2015 with

Unprecedented Loans from the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna

Many Masterpieces Never Before Seen in the U.S. Illustrate 500 Years of Collecting from the Late Middle Ages to the Early 20th Century

Vienna Exhibition; Feb 15 - May 10, 2015; Target Gallery

 April 18, 2014 – In 2015, a major American collaboration will bring masterworks amassed by one of the longest-reigning European dynasties to the United States. “The Habsburgs: Rarely Seen Masterpieces from Europe’s Greatest Dynasty” showcases masterpieces and rare objects from the collection of the Habsburg Dynasty—the emperors of the Holy Roman Empire and other powerful rulers who commissioned extraordinary artworks now in the collection of the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna. The exhibition, largely composed of works that have never traveled outside of Austria, will be on view at the Minneapolis Institute of Art (MIA); the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (MFAH); and the High Museum of Art, Atlanta.

 Debuting in Minneapolis in February 2015 before traveling to Houston and Atlanta, “The Habsburgs: Rarely Seen Masterpieces from Europe’s Greatest Dynasty” explores the dramatic rise and fall of the Habsburgs’ global empire, from their political ascendance in the late Middle Ages to the height of their power in the 16th and 17th centuries, the expansion of the dynasty in the 18th and 19th centuries to its decline in 1918 at the end of World War I. The 93 artworks and artifacts that tell the story include arms and armor, sculpture, Greek and Roman antiquities, court costumes, carriages, decorative art objects, and paintings by such masters as Correggio, Giorgione, Rubens, Tintoretto, Titian, and Velázquez. Key masterpieces that have never before traveled to the United States include:

  • ·         The Crowning with Thorns (c. 1602/1604) by Caravaggio
  • ·         A portrait of Jane Seymour (1536), Queen of England and third wife to Henry VIII, by Hans Holbein the Younger
  • ·         Jupiter and Io (c. 1530/32) by Correggio

 “The Habsburgs: Rarely Seen Masterpieces from Europe’s Greatest Dynasty” is organized by the Minneapolis Institute of Art; the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; the High Museum of Art, Atlanta; and the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna. The exhibition will be on view in Minneapolis from February 15–May 10, 2015; Houston from June 14–September 13, 2015; and Atlanta from October 18, 2015–January 17, 2016.

 “The exhibition grew out of a visit to the Kunsthistorisches Museum’s famed Kunstkammer Wien, a veritable treasure box of masterworks and one of Europe’s great cultural gems,” explained Michael E. Shapiro, the Nancy and Holcombe T. Green, Jr. Director of the High. “The Kunstkammer only recently reopened after a nine-year renovation that hid the majority of the art from public view. For American audiences, this is a once-in-a-lifetime chance to peek inside the chambers of one of the most important imperial art collections in the world.”

 “’The Habsburgs: Rarely Seen Masterpieces from Europe’s Greatest Dynasty’ is an unprecedented presentation and wide-ranging survey of the Habsburg Dynasty, a true visual feast,” said Kaywin Feldman, director and president of the MIA and hosting curator. “By bringing together the Habsburgs’ paintings, decorative arts, costumes, and armor, we can give our visitors a rich, tangible, and fascinating sense of the lives and legacies of these important European rulers who shaped world history.”

 “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, director of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. “The selection of paintings—by Giorgione, Titian, Correggio, Arcimboldo, Rubens, and Velázquez, 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.”

 “We’re delighted to share our Museum´s unique wonders with our American friends,” added Sabine Haag, general director of Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien. “The exhibition will show the extraordinary wide range of the Habsburgs’ collections, including masterpieces of Roman antiquity, medieval armory, early modern painting and craftwork, as well as gorgeous carriages and clothing.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 treasure.”

 “The Habsburgs: Rarely Seen Masterpieces from Europe’s Greatest Dynasty” chronicles the Habsburgs’ story in three chapters, each featuring a three-dimensional “tableau”—a display of objects from the Habsburgs’ opulent court ceremonies—as context for the other works on view.


The first section features objects commissioned or collected by the Habsburgs from the 13th through the 16th centuries. In this late medieval/early Renaissance period, Habsburg rulers staged elaborate commemorative celebrations to demonstrate power and to establish their legitimacy to rule, a tradition that flourished during the reigns of Maximilian I and his heirs. Works from this era—including sabres and armor, tapestries, Roman cameos, and large-scale paintings—illustrate the significance of war and patronage in expanding Habsburg influence and prestige.

 Tableau: Suits of armor displayed on horseback, and jousting weapons from a royal tournament

 Highlights include:

      Armor of Emperor Maximilian I (c. 1492) made by Lorenz Helmschmid

      Bronze bust of Emperor Charles V (c. 1555) by Leone Leoni

      A rock crystal goblet made for Emperor Frederick III (1400–1450)


The second and largest section of the exhibition highlights the apex of Habsburg rule, the Baroque Age of the 17th and 18th centuries. The dynasty used religion, works of art, and court festivities to propagate its self-image and claim to rule during this politically tumultuous time. Paintings by Europe’s leading artists demonstrate the wealth and taste of the Habsburg rulers, while crucifixes wrought in precious metals and gems, as well as sumptuous ecclesiastical vestments, reflect the emperor’s role as defender of the Catholic faith.

 Tableau: A procession featuring a Baroque ceremonial carriage and sleigh, with carvings by master craftsman Balthasar Ferdinand Moll.

 Highlights include:

      An ivory tankard (1642) by Hans Jacob Bachmann

      Infanta Maria Teresa (1652–53), a portrait of the daughter of Philip IV of Spain and eventual wife of Louis XIV of France, by Velázquez

      An alchemical medal (1677), illustrated with portraits in relief of the Habsburgs, by Johann Permann


The exhibition concludes with works from the early 19th century, when the fall of the Holy Roman Empire gave rise to the hereditary Austrian Empire—a transition from the ancien régime to a modern state in which merit determined distinction and advancement. Franz Joseph, who would reign longer than any previous Habsburg, saw the growth of nationalism and ultimately ruled over a dual monarchy of Austria-Hungary. As heir to the Habsburg legacy—and in the spirit of public education and enrichment—he founded the Kunsthistorisches Museum in 1891. Reflecting the modernization of the Habsburg administration, the exhibition will end with a spectacular display of official court uniforms and dresses.

 Tableau: Uniforms and women’s gowns from the court of Franz Joseph

 Highlights include:

      Campaign uniform of Franz Joseph (1907)

      A velvet dress made for Empress Elisabeth (c. 1860/65)

      An evening gown made for Princess Kinsky (c. 1905)

      Ceremonial dress of Crown Prince Otto for the Hungarian Coronation (1916)

 The exhibition is curated by Dr. Monica Kurzel-Runtscheiner, director of the Imperial Carriage Museum, Vienna. The hosting curator at the Minneapolis Institute of Art is Kaywin Feldman, director. At the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, the lead hosting curator is David Bomford, director of conservation, MFAH; his curatorial team is comprised of Helga Aurisch, curator, European paintings, MFAH, and Christine Gervais, assistant curator, decorative arts, Rienzi. At the High Museum of Art, the hosting curator is Dr. David A. Brenneman, director of collections and exhibitions and Frances B. Bunzl Family Curator of European art.

 A full-color catalogue is being published by the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, with essays by Dr. Monica Kurzel-Runtscheiner, director of the Imperial Carriage Museum, Vienna; Dr. Franz Pichorner, deputy director, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna; and Dr. Stefan Krause, curator of arms and armor, Kunsthistorisches Museum. Additionally, a virtual exhibition of additional pieces will be viewable online, deepening the visitor experience and providing further opportunities for the public to engage with the art and its history.