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Europe800px-Rudolf_IV

This is Rudolf IV of Austria (1339 –1365).  He was the first Archduke of Austria…or of anywhere (like some sort of 14th century rapper, he invented the rank of Archduke for himself, in case you were curious where that ponderous title originally came from) and he was also Duke of Styria and Carinthia from 1358, as well as Count of Tyrol from 1363 and first Duke of Carniola from 1364 until his death in July of 1365. Rudolf IV’s megalomania and grandiose plans laid the foundations of Vienna’s future greatness (and Austria’s).  The future imperial city was a backwater without even an episcopal see before Rudolf started building cathedrals, modernizing his duchy, and inventing fancy titles for himself (he invented some counterfeit royal charters too). In this post, however, we are concentrating not on on his historical importance to Habsburg dynasty building, but on his splendid portrait, the first half frontal portrait in Western Europe.  Like much of Rudolf’s legacy, the archducal crown of wild vines, arches, and jewels, was seemingly invented.  The intimate and introspective style of the work was partially borrowed from the master painters of Byzantium, but was also an Austrian painting innovation.  Like Rudolf’s reign it forshadowed wonders to come.

Detail from "Medicine" (Gustav Klimt, 1901)

Detail from “Medicine” (Gustav Klimt, 1901)

Earlier this month we featured a post about Robert William’s painting “In the Pavillion of the Red Clown” an enigmatic artwork which showed a sinister red-garbed clown using a golden snake to menace a pretty showgirl.  It’s a powerful painting and it provoked some enthusiastic and thoughtful comments, but it is also a painting with some real gender issues (particularly considering the clown’s menacing attitude and the showgirl’s scanty garb). To rectify the situation and even up the scales, here is an even more beautiful painting by the Vienna Secession master, Gustav Klimt.  Actually this is a detail photograph of a part of the larger painting “Medicine” which Klimt painted in 1901.  Sadly the original painting was destroyed by the S.S. in 1945, but photos and sketches of the original still exist.  The woman in red is the goddess Hygeia, one of the daughters of Asclepius.  Worshiped by Romans as the personification of health, cleanliness, and sanitation, she holds a sacred golden snake, the ancient symbol of healing and looks haughtily down at the viewer.  Her strange lovely red and gold garb highlights her divinity and otherworldliness. Likewise the golden swirls on her dress and the red ribbons in her elaborately coiffed hair suggest a hidden world of medical secrets.

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