THE HISTORY OF THE PRINCELY COLLECTIONS

Relatively little is known about the early period of the collection’s history. Through his marriage to Anna of Ortenburg, the Portrait of Count Ladislaus von Haag by Hans Mielich came into the possession of Hartmann von Liechtenstein (1544–1585), who also brought important and still extant holdings of books into the family collections.

The collection experienced its first heyday at the turn of the sixteenth to the seventeenth century. Surviving correspondence dating to 1597 between Emperor Rudolf II and Karl I von Liechtenstein (1569–1627), the first of the princes to be seized by a true passion for collecting, indicates that the latter possessed a remarkable collection of paintings and Kunstkammer pieces in his Prague residence. The existence of a silver chamber with more than 900 different items is documented at Feldsberg/Valtice. Inventories indicate that the prince kept tapestries and carpets, precious items of furniture, objects of silver and gold, vessels carved out of semi-precious stone as well as paintings in his Guardaroba, which may be regarded as the original 'germ cell' of the Princely Collections. Karl I collected not only existing works but also commissioned major pieces for his collections. It was at his request that Adrian de Fries executed the life-sized bronze of Christ in Distress in 1607, and shortly afterwards the figure of St Sebastian (1613/15).

Like his father, Karl Eusebius I von Liechtenstein (1611–1684) was also driven by a passion for collecting and was the first of the family to make systematic use of the international art trade to acquire particular works of art. He wrote theoretical treatises, including a work on the education of princes and a tractate on architecture which also had an influence on the nature of the collection.
Karl Eusebius initiated a large number of major building projects, and was the first prince of the House of Liechtenstein to engage architects, masons, stuccateurs and painters on a grand scale. In 1643 he acquired Rubens’ monumental Assumption of the Virgin Mary as the altarpiece for the parish church in Feldsberg that he had commissioned, a work that is today on display at the Liechtenstein summer palace.

Karl Eusebius' son, Prince Johann Adam Andreas I von Liechtenstein (1657–1712), continued on his father’s path. He had numerous palaces built, including the summer palace in the Rossau quarter as well as the city palace on Bankgasse, decorating and furnishing them according to his own predilections. He was responsible for the acquisition of major works by Peter Paul Rubens (the Decius Mus cycle, Portrait of Clara Serena Rubens), Anthony van Dyck and other masters of the Flemish Baroque which still constitute the glory of the Princely Collections.
With Prince Joseph Wenzel I von Liechtenstein (1696–1772) French art gained a more important place in the collection. The two portraits of the prince by Hyacinthe Rigaud belong to this era as well as the enamel plaques by Pierre Courteys with scenes from the Trojan War, which are among the finest examples of enamel work produced in Limoges during the sixteenth century. Around 1759 Joseph Wenzel also commissioned Bernardo Bellotto to paint the two vedutas which give a detailed impression of the appearance of the Liechtenstein summer palace in the Rossau quarter and its gardens at that time.

On the occasion of his appointment as imperial ambassador to the French court in 1737 the prince commissioned several state coaches from Nicolas Pineau, of which only the Golden Carriage displayed in the Sala Terrena of the Liechtenstein SUMMER PALACE has survived. Its artistic quality and historical importance combine to make it one of the most important state coaches of the French Rococo.
Prince Joseph Wenzel also commissioned the first inventory documenting the part of the collections that were displayed in the city palace on Bankgasse at the time. This formed the basis for the first printed catalogue of the Princely Collections, compiled by Vincenzo Fanti, the director of the princely galleries.

During the era of Prince Alois I von Liechtenstein (1759–1805) the collections were augmented by various acquisitions as well as commissioned works, the latter including a portrait of his wife, Princess Karoline von Liechtenstein, as Iris, and one of his sisters, Princess Maria Josepha Hermenegilde von Esterhazy, née Princess Liechtenstein, as Ariadne on Naxos, both painted by Elisabeth Vigée-Lebrun. A particular interest of his was the collection of prints and drawings as well as the holdings of books, which were shelved together in their entirety for the first time in 1792 after the palace on Herrengasse had been refurbished in early classicistic style.

From 1807, under the regime of Prince Johann I von Liechtenstein (1760–1836), the collections were gradually transferred to the summer palace, where there was considerably more space for them to be adequately displayed than in the rather cramped premises of the city palace on Bankgasse. A great lover of art, he increased the holdings of the collection, particularly in the fields of Dutch and Italian painting.

Prince Alois II (1796–1858) developed a particularly close relationship with a number of contemporary artists: his children received drawing lessons from Josef Höger and were portrayed by Friedrich von Amerling. The most touching portrait in this series is without doubt that of Princess Marie Franziska von Liechtenstein (1834–1909) at the age of two, dating from 1836. Intimate, delightfully informal ‘snapshots’ of the children were captured in watercolour sketches by Peter Fendi. Rudolf von Alt was commissioned by Alois II to paint a series of vedutas which record the Liechtenstein estates in Vienna and Moravia in meticulous detail. In 1837 he commissioned the remodelling and decoration of the Liechtenstein city palace on Bankgasse in the Rococo Revival style, its first occurrence in Europe.

Advised by the Berlin art historian Wilhelm von Bode, who compiled the first illustrated catalogue of the gallery, published in 1896, Prince Johann II von Liechtenstein (1840–1929) focused his collecting activities on the art of the 14th, 15th and early 16th century. Nonetheless, he was also interested in the Venetian masters of the 18th and 19th centuries. His activities were not confined purely to acquiring works for his own collections; he also donated numerous paintings to other museums in Vienna and Moravia (e.g. works by early Italian painters were gifted to the paintings gallery of the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna, and works from the Biedermeier age and the later 19th century were given to the forerunner of today's Wien Museum).

Johann II gave orders for the gallery to be completely reorganised, lending it a distinct character. Deliberately avoiding the plain, no-nonsense impression of a collection hung according to strict academic principles, the interior of the gallery was enlivened and broken up by the eclectic variety of art objects exhibited. The mixture of furniture, tapestries, sculptures and paintings created the warm, lavish atmosphere of a family collection that distinguished the Liechtenstein gallery from all others.

In 1938 the 130-year-old exhibition of the Princely Collections at the Liechtenstein SUMMER PALACE came to an abrupt end when the gallery was closed to the public. The same year, for the first time in its history, the family moved its principal residence to Vaduz, transferring its art treasures there in the last few weeks of the war. The capital of Liechtenstein thus remains to this day the headquarters of the collections of the Prince von und zu Liechtenstein.

The return of the collections to the Liechtenstein SUMMER PALACE in March 2004 marked the resumption of the centuries-old tradition of the Princely Collections. A rich selection of major works of art from the princely holdings conveys to today’s visitors the variety and opulence of one of the world’s largest and most important family collections.

Following four years of painstaking restoration completed in April 2013 the Liechtenstein CITY PALACE is now once again resplendent in its former glory. This uniquely magnificent princely residence and its art treasures may be viewed as part of a pre-booked guided tour.

The spectacular interiors contain painting and furniture from one of the most fruitful and individual epochs in the history of Viennese art. Here masterpieces by major artists such as Friedrich von Amerling, Friedrich Gauermann or Ferdinand Georg Waldmüller engage in dialogue with the original interiors of the palace, which represent the first example of the Rococo Revival style in the world. For the first time in this palace the entire range of Biedermeier art can be experienced – from seeming plainness to the most opulent neo-Rococo that is also characteristic of this epoch.

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