At the heart of the exhibition are the lavish catalogues of the major European Baroque galleries, proclaiming the prestige of their creators and also marking the origins of modern exhibition and art catalogues. They document princely ideals of beautiful interiors, provide glimpses behind concepts of Baroque (re)presentation and reflect classification systems, “public” accessibility, and display practices typical of the period. These original collection catalogues are combined with portraits of the princes and a selection of paintings from their collections. The exhibition is the first to explore this phenomenon from a pan-European perspective and compare the most important princely collectors from the Baroque period.
The exhibition Princely Splendour - The Power of Pomp impressively demonstrates the importance that Europe’s former ruling dynasties attached to their art collections. For centuries, owning art was used as a way of flaunting power. This development was accompanied by the increasing status of artists, particularly painters, in the emerging Baroque period. Talented artists became the favourites of princes and securing their services for the court, and the exclusive rights to their work this entailed, were further “puzzle pieces” in the power structure. At the height of the Baroque period outstanding talents, such as Peter Paul Rubens, could even be promoted to diplomats and enjoyed the status of “painter princes”.
A journey through Europe’s magnificent galleries – from Paris to Moscow
The exhibits include Theatrum Pictorium (Theatre of Painting), published by court painter David Teniers the Younger in 1660. This lavishly illustrated work is a testimony to the Habsburg Archduke Leopold Wilhelm’s passion for collecting and represents the birth of these elaborately designed books with printed reproductions of the artworks.
Also featuring in the exhibition are Jean-Baptiste Colbert’s Tableaux du Cabinet du Roi created under France’s King Louis XIV, the Dresden Galeriewerk under August III, elector of Saxony and king of Poland, as well as a Prodromus, a type of preview compiled under the Austrian Emperor Charles VI in Baroque Vienna around 1720–30 with over one thousand planned painting reproductions grouped into miniature tableaus.
The Imperial Picture Gallery’s move from Vienna’s Stallburg to the Upper Belvedere presented an ideal opportunity to compile a new guide to the collection. This small-scale publication provides an insight into the concept and organization of the new hanging which, when compared with other European galleries, reveals a completely new, rationalized order. Increasingly, large albums were being replaced by more reasonably priced shorter catalogues, reflecting the public’s wishes to enjoy the collection in the form of handy guides. In the spirit of the Enlightenment, the opening of aristocratic collections to a new, wider public went hand in hand with the evolution of these gallery catalogues.
This pan-European show features outstanding loans from the Louvre and other museums, with the state portrait of the French Sun King from the Palace of Versailles as the exhibition’s highlight.