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Artwork Alluring as it is Unsettling: Belvedere Palace Upper Level

Art transcends language. It goes beyond differences in culture, gender, or age and brings people together through a common enchantment with visual expression.

During my travels through Madrid, I was lucky enough to stay with a host family. All of us gathered on my last day for a traditional Spanish meal of wine, bread and paella. My host “mother” invited her mom and dad for the meal, as well. They barely spoke English, and my undergraduate level three understanding of the Spanish language was limited, but enough for us to carry on a conversation. We talked about works of art and the galleries they hung in. I learned Kitty’s favorite painting was Gustav Klimt’s The Kiss because she loved the romance (eroticism) behind it. With Kitty practically swooning over The Kiss, it made an easy choice for me to later visit the Vienna museum it lived in and inspired me to learn all about the Austrian symbolist painter behind it.

Gustav Klimt The Kiss, 1907-08 (Photo: Viktoria Capek)

Gustav Klimt’s artistic practice was all over the place. He’s known for sketches, sculptures, murals and paintings. Female figures took the spotlight of Klimt’s artwork, and while beautiful, posed a bit problematic and borderline pornographic. Perhaps his most recognizable style of work is a representation of the financial success he eventually found through his art career. Klimt’s “golden phase” marks a series of paintings completed with gold leaf. The Kiss completed his golden era.

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The Kiss is one of several gold leaf paintings on display at Vienna’s Belvedere Palace. The gallery is split into three sections- Belvedere 21, Lower Belvedere, and Upper Belvedere- each portraying a distinctly different style of art. Upper Belvedere holds a richer, more caliginous exhibition than the other two sections. That style presents an interesting and inviting display of art because of the contrast it provides the original purpose of the palace- a Summer residence for Hapsburg royalty.

Outside Belvedere Palace (Photo: Viktoria Capek)

Rich and caliginous may sound like an oxymoron, but one word describes the themes of the artwork in the upper palace gallery and one word describes the details that formed the artwork. The combination of dark themes and attractive materials makes a piece mysterious and invites museum-goers to consume artwork longer.

German classicist painter Anslem Feuerbach’s 1869 painting Orpheus and Eurydike is a model example. The painting was inspired by the Greek tragic myth of Orpheus, an illustrious musician who held the power to cross the lands of the living and dead through his music and Eurydice, a nymph who fell in love with Orpheus. The two married, but Eurydice died on their wedding day. Orpheus struck a series of deals to use his music and retrieve Eurydice from the underworld, but just as the two are about to escape, Eurydice is dragged back to the land of the dead. Following the second loss of his wife and subsequent grief, Orpheus enters a depression cutting him off entirely from the world around him.

Anslem Feuerbach Orpheus and Eurydike, 1869 (Photo: Viktoria Capek)

The painting is a traditional oil on canvas presentation of the moment Orpheus leads Eurydice from death. The contrast of the bright pastel pink and off-white painted robes against the black backdrop comes across almost metallic-looking with gallery lights shining on it. From the top left corner of the painting, the effect of light appears as the couple’s exit from the underworld. The manipulation of light and contrast in the painting attracts viewers forward almost parallel to the way Orpheus and Eurydice move forward.

Feuerbach’s Orpheus and Eurydike may not be the only presentation of the Greek myth at the Upper Belvedere. It’s rumored that Klimt’s The Kiss may also present a moment shared between the lovers before tragedy struck.

Both works of art are alluring as they are unsettling, much like the rest of the Belvedere Palace.

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