The Belvedere Palace
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
To the Belvedere Palace, therefore, let us go. I visited it with Mr. Lewis—taking our valet with us, immediately after breakfast—on one of the finest and clearest-skied September mornings that ever shone above the head of man. We had resolved to take the Ambras, or the little Belvedere, in our way; and to have a good, long, and uninterrupted view of the wonders of art—in a variety of departments.
Both the little Belvedere and the large Belvedere rise gradually above the suburbs; and the latter may be about a mile and a half from the ramparts of the city. The Ambras contains a quantity of ancient horse and foot-armor, brought thither from a chateau of that name, near Insbruck, built y the Emperor Charles V. Such a collection of old armor—which had once equally graced and protected the bodies of their wearers, among whom the noblest names of which Germany can boast may be enrolled—was infinitely gratifying to me. The sides of the first room were quite embossed with suspended shields, cuirasses, and breast-plates. The floor was almost filled y champions on horseback—yet poising the spear, or holding it in the rest—yet almost shaking their angry plumes, and pricking the fiery sides of their coursers.
Here rode Maximilian—and there halted Charles his son. Different suits of armor, be-longing to the same character, are studiously shown you y the guide; some of these are the foot-, and some the horse-, armor; some were worn in fight—yet giving evidence of the mark of the bullet and battle-ax; others were the holiday suits of armor, with which the knights marched in procession, or tilted at the tournament. The workmanship of the full-dress suits, in which a great deal of highly wrought gold ornament appears, is sometimes really exquisite.
The second, or long room, is more particularly appropriated to the foot- or infantry-armor. In this studied display of much that is interesting from antiquity, and splendid from absolute beauty and costliness, I was particularly gratified y the sight of the armor which the Emperor Maximilian wore as a foot-captain. The lower part, to defend the thighs, consists of a puckered or plated steel petticoat, sticking out at the bottom of the folds, considerably beyond the upper part. It is very .simple, and of polished steel. A fine suit of armor—of black and gold—worn by an Arch-bishop of Salzburg in the middle of the fifteenth century, had particular claims upon my admiration. It was at once chaste and effective. The mace was y the side of it.
This room is also ornamented y trophies taken from the Turks; such as bows, spears, battle-axes, and scimitars. In short, the whole is full of interest and splendor. I ought to have seen the arsenal—which I learn is of uncommon magnificence ; and, altho not so curious on the score of antiquity, is yet not destitute of relies of the warriors of Germany. Among these, those which belong to my old bibliomaniacal friend Corvinus, King of Hungary, cut a conspicuous and very respectable figure. I fear it will be now impracticable to see the arsenal as it ought to be seen.
It is now approaching mid-day, and we are walking toward the terrace in front of the Great Belvidere Palace, built y the immortal Eugene' in the year 1724, as a summer residence. Probably no spot could have been selected with better judgment for the residence of a Prince—who wished to enjoy, almost at the same moment, the charms of the country with the magnificence of a city view, unclouded y the dense fumes which forever envelop our metropolis. It is in truth a glorious situation. Walking along its wide and well-cultivated terraces, you obtain the finest view imaginable of the city of Vienna.
Indeed it may be called a picturesque view. The spire of the cathedral darts directly up-ward, as it were, to the very heavens. The ground before you, and in the distance, is gently undulating; and the intermediate portion of the suburbs does not present any very offensive protrusions. More in the distance, the windings of the Danube are seen; with its various little islands, studded with hamlets and fishing-huts, lighted up by a sun of unusual radiance. Indeed the sky, above the whole of this rich and civilized scene, was at the time of our viewing it, almost of a dazzling hue; so deep and vivid a tint we had never before beheld. Behind the palace, in the distance, you observe a chain of mountains which extends into Hungary. As to the building itself, it is perfectly palatial in its size, form, ornaments, and general effect.
Among the treasures, which it contains, it is now high time to enter and to look about us. My account is necessarily a mere sketch. Rubens, if any artist, seems here to "rule and reign without control!" Two large rooms are filled with his productions; besides several other pictures, y the same hand, which are placed in different apartments. Here it is that you see verified the truth of Sir Joshua's remark upon that wonderful artist: namely, that his genius seems to expand with the size of his canvas.
His pencil absolutely riots here—in the most luxuriant manner—whether in the majesty of an altarpiece, in the gaiety of a festive scene, or in the sobriety of portrait-painting. His Ignatius Loyola and St. Francis Xavier—of the former. class—each seventeen feet high, by nearly thirteen wide—are stupendous productions in more senses than one. The latter is, indeed, in my humble judgment, the most marvelous specimen of the powers of the painter which I have ever seen; and you must remember that both England and France are not without some of his celebrated productions, which I have frequently examined.
In the old German School, the series is almost countless; and of the greatest possible degree of interest and curiosity. Here are to be seen Wohlgemuths, Albert Durers, both the Holbeins, Lucas Cranachs, Ambergaus, and Burgmairs of all sizes and degrees of merit. Among these ancient specimens—which are placed in curious order, in the very upper suite of apartments, and of which the back-grounds of several, in one solid coat of gilt, lighten up the room like a golden sunset—you must not fail to pay particular attention to a singularly curious old subject—representing the Life, Miracles, and Passion of our Savior, in a series of one hundred and fifty-eight pictures—of which the largest is nearly three feet square, and every other about fifteen inches y ten. These subjects are painted upon eighty-six small pieces of wood; of which seventy-two are contained in six folding cabinets, each holding twelve subjects. In regard to Teniers, Gerard Dow, Mieris, Wouvermann, and Cuyp, you must look at home for more exquisite specimens. This collection contains, in the whole, not fewer than fifteen hundred paintings, of which the greater portion consists of pictures of very large dimensions. I could have lived here for a month; but could only move along with the hurried step, and yet more hurrying eye, of an ordinary visitor.