Currently, a very special exhibition is being held at the National Museum of Korea. It is titled ‘Six Centuries of Beauty in the Habsburg Empire,’ which is being held in cooperation with the Vienna Museum of Art History to commemorate the 130th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Korea and Austria. The Habsburgs, known as the most prestigious family in Europe, starting with Rudolph I, who was elected Holy Roman Emperor. Yang Seung-mi of the National Museum of Korea’s exhibition department, said that she planned it to shed light on Habsburg, also put a lot of effort into maintaining the balance between history art works. When watching the exhibition, this CBT reporter could vividly experience the characters in history, while also enjoying the beauty of the time.
When first entering the exhibition hall, which is being held in the planning exhibition room of the National Museum of Korea, visitors can see the phrase “Austria rules the world” along with the Habsburg’s crest. As their family motto “Plus Ultra” suggested, it shows how the Habsburgs sought to expand their sphere of influence after consolidating Austria. The exhibition consists of five parts, so a CBT reporter wrote an article by dividing the topics in detail so that students at Chungbuk National University, who have not yet seen the exhibition, can enjoy the works without getting confused.
<Rudolf II’s Kunstkammer (The Cabinet of Curiosities)>
It is no exaggeration to say that the foundation of the Vienna Museum of Art History was created by Rudolf Ⅱ, who was an emperor with an excellent eye for art. Although he was also considered incompetent as an emperor after receiving religious opposition and losing the 13 years war with the Ottoman Turks, visitors can see the beautiful works he collected during his lifetime in this exhibition. After becoming emperor in 1576, Rudolf Ⅱ moved the capital to Prague, bringing in many artists and craftsmen, making Prague a center of Bohemian art. As an art supporter and collector, he collected and exhibited various artworks, ranging from paintings to quaint crafts and academic achievements, in the ‘Kunstkammer.’ It includes works such as Agate Bowl, and Cruciform sundial. After Rudolf Ⅱ, Archduke Leopold and Ferdinand Ⅲ also collected a number of paintings, armor and other artworks, raising the reputation of the Habsburg collection.
Agate Bowl has characteristics of the volute-band designs covering the outer surface and its elaborate, finely-cut rim. Ottavio Miseroni, the mason of the work, was invited by Emperor Rudolf to open a workshop in Prague. He contributed to establishing Prague as a center of stone art in Europe.
Sundials were the most accurate means of telling time until the early modern era, and Cruciform sundial was produced in a multi-sided cruciform structure that could tell time in several ways. Diverse chronometrical methods integrated into this sundial indicate that its creator had great knowledge and interest in mathematics, geometry, science, and the arts. The incorporation of virtuosity and science is one of characteristics of the artworks preferred by Emperor Rudolf Ⅱ.
<The Lineage of the Habsburgs>
Although the lineage of the Habsburg is long, this exhibition mainly deals with the story of Habsburg after it was divided into two royal families. From Rudolf I to Charles V, the first emperors of the Holy Roman Empire, they ruled over vast territories. However, Charles V handed over Spanish territory to his son Felipe II and Austrian territory to his younger brother Ferdinand I. Therefore, the Habsburgs were divided into a family that ruled Spain and a family that ruled Austria. The majesty of the Habsburg family in Spain can be seen in portraits of King Philip IV of Spain, his queen Elisabeth, and Infanta Margarita Teresa in a white dress.
In the House of Habsburg, Austria, visitors can see the powerful kingship of Maria Theresia. After the death of her father Charles VI, Maria Theresia was crowned Queen of Austria but could not become an emperor of the Holy Roman Empire. In 1745, her husband Francis Stephen was crowned emperor and was named Francis I. However, Francis I was indifferent to politics, so Maria Theresia administered state affairs and exercised power in reality. Maria Theresia’s rule continued after her son Joseph II succeeded to the throne. In the exhibition, visitors can see a majestic portrait of Maria Theresia and Josef II, who wanted to be portrayed as a working emperor in the study.
Francis Joseph I of the House of Habsburg of Austria ruled the Austrian Empire for a long time, but the monarchy ended with the loss of his son Rudolf, who was his successor, and his nephew Francis Ferdinand. Prince Francis Ferdinand and his wife were assassinated by Serbian nationalists, which sparked World War I.
<Greek and Roman mythology in the Habsburgs>
Greek and Roman mythology originated in ancient Greece and continued throughout the Roman Empire. Therefore, there are many works about mythical stories in Habsburg, which was part of the Holy Roman Empire.
Among them, there are two works, which is carved under the theme of Hercules, an ancient hero, Hercules and Hercules Slaying the Centaur Eurytion. Hercules appears to be immersed in thought, while leaning against a column hung with lion skin, which was his symbol. Unlike the ancient Greek sculptures depicting Hercules with a muscular body, this works portrays him with a slim physique, looking at the floor as if recalling his past as a hero. Hercules Slaying the Centaur Eurytion depicts the moment at which Hercules kills Eurytion. Susini carved the pupils and irises of the figure very vividly. The reason why there are many works of Hercules is that Charles V wanted to reveal the absolute power of the emperor in comparison to Hercules’ bravery in ancient mythology. It is said that Charles V enjoyed using Hercules as his own figure as a hero, and some argue that the carved face of ‘Hercules’ reminds of the emperor.
Venus and Mars, warned by Mercury, depicts Venus, the Goddess of love, appearing with Mars, the God of war, not her husband, Vulcan. Therefore, Mercury is holding up a finger as if warning them not to commit adultery. In this picture, the characteristics of mannerism, elongated body proportions and convoluted postures appears. This is because Rudolf II preferred a mannerism method that twisted the proportions of the human body. In particular, he preferred pictures with erotic themes such as the scene of sharing love in Greek and Roman mythology. In fact, the representative artist of Mannerism, such as Bartholomaus Spranger, who painted Venus and Mars, warned by Mercury, was court painters of Rudolf II.
Finally, there is a masterpiece completed in collaboration with various artists such as Rubens and Frans, Philemon and Baucis Giving Hospitality to Jupiter and Mercury. Gods disguised as humans visited the village Phrygia, but they were turned away at every door. Only an elderly couple named Philemon and Baucis welcomed the deities. The artist depicted the moment when the old man realized the identity of the customer as the served wine did not decrease. This painting is more special because visitors can focus solely on the painting in a dark space, except for the lighting that illuminates the work. In addition, there is a separate seat where people can sit and enjoy the painting, so it is possible to enjoy the vividly depicted painting free from the constraints of time.
The reason why this exhibition is more special is that Joseon appears in the 600 years history of the Habsburg. In 1892, Austria and Joseon established diplomatic relations, and Gojong sent Francis Joseph I a set of armor and a helmet as a celebratory gift. The gift visited Korea again after 130 years. The CBT reporter asked Yang Seung-mi, the exhibition organizer, about what would be good to focus on when college students who are not familiar with European history visit the exhibition in ‘Six Centuries of Beauty in the Habsburg Empire.’
“The exhibition is organized around the representative collectors of Habsburg, so it will be a more special viewing if students look at the central figure. The people of Habsburg were well aware that art is power and knowledge. Now the empire that Habsburg ruled has disappeared, but the Vienna Museum of Art History still shines with 600 years of Habsburg. I hope it will be an exhibition where students can think about the power of art.” Students at CBNU should also appreciate the ‘Six Centuries of Beauty in the Habsburg Empire,’ which runs until March 1 at the National Museum of Korea.
By Kim Ji-soo