In 1686 and 1689 Count Dominik Andreas I von Kaunitz (1655–1705) acquired two plots of land on the Löwelbastei, part of the city ramparts. At the time Kaunitz was serving as imperial envoy in Munich. After his return to Vienna in 1689 the construction project began to take on concrete form. An initial set of designs for a town palace was submitted by the architect to the Bavarian Court Enrico Zuccalli, with whom Kaunitz had presumably become acquainted during his time in Munich. The design drew relatively directly on the Palazzo Chigi-Odescalchi in Rome, which after its remodelling by Gian Lorenzo Bernini around 1665 was to have an important influence on Baroque palatial architecture in Italy and beyond.
Bernini’s influence shows itself above all in the articulation of the City Palace’s façade. The emphasis of the main elevation facing Bankgasse (formerly Schenkenstrasse) lies in the central projection that is accentuated with colossal pilasters enclosing the two piani nobili. This principle, in conjunction with the alterations made to the design by Domenico Martinelli, the architect who subsequently took over the project, was to have an enduring influence on the architecture of the palaces subsequently built within Vienna’s city walls.
Zuccalli pursued the idea of the building as an ‘isola’ arranged around a square courtyard, which initially remained open on one side, however, due to lack of space. The sequence of the principal rooms – vestibule, stairway and ceremonial hall – was probably already fixed at this first stage of design. It was not until a further plot at the rear of building was later purchased by Prince Johann Adam Andreas I von Liechtenstein (1657–1712) that Zuccalli’s original design was able to be implemented with the construction of a shallow connecting arcade. In 1692, after the existing structures had been demolished, foreman Antonio Riva began work on Zuccalli’s project. Later in the same year Count Kaunitz transferred the commission to Domenico Martinelli.
Although the disposition of the building was largely defined by this point, Martinelli succeeded in putting his own stamp on the palace. The raising of the ceremonial hall extended the zones of the two floors, thereby giving the central projection even greater emphasis, while the elimination of the prominent rustication, the amplification of the fascia and the alignment of the plinth zone with the upper floors contributed to a more cohesive appearance. Both inside and out, Martinelli’s architecture derives its impact from clear, primary forms inspired by antiquity and the tectonics of Roman Baroque that achieve their effect without recourse to any decorative additions.
On 23 April 1694 Kaunitz sold the shell construction to Prince Johann Adam Andreas I. The reasons for the sale were possibly financial difficulties and a lengthy period of absence as a diplomat in The Hague. The sale included all the building materials as well as the contracts with the architects in charge. Gabriele de Gabrieli was engaged as the new foreman.
In the Reigning Prince’s residence on Herrengasse, only a stone’s throw from the new building site, the Liechtensteins already possessed a residence commensurate with their rank at the centre of the city. However, from 1705 the new City Palace provided space for the art collection, till then dispersed among the family’s many estates, to be housed for the first time as a whole on the second piano nobile. The art collection as arranged there in a cohesive display by Prince Johann Adam Andreas I remained in the palace until 1807.
In order to ensure that his City Palace was completed swiftly the prince called a temporary halt to the construction of the Garden Palace in the extra-mural suburb of Rossau. He also largely employed the same labourers and artists in both palaces. As in the case of the Garden Palace, Santino Bussi, who was responsible for the stucco work from 1705, made a major contribution. The services of the Venetian artist Antonio Bellucci were secured in 1697 for the wall décor, the prince having decided in favour of canvas paintings rather than frescos. Belluci supplied allegorical ceiling paintings for both piani nobili; most of these were subsequently transferred to the gallery building in the Rossau from 1807, not least in order to supplement and finish off the ceiling décor there, which had remained uncompleted.
The stairway in the Liechtenstein City Palace, together with those in Palais Harrach and Prince Eugene of Savoy’s Winter Palace, is the earliest monumental structure of this kind in Viennese Baroque architecture. This supremely grand space became the object of a dispute between Martinelli and his client that caused a veritable scandal in Viennese society. After the stone masonry for the stairway had been commissioned in 1699, Martinelli felt obliged to distance himself publicly from the implementation of the project. He even issued specially printed leaflets protesting vehemently against being associated with the work in any way. The exact reason for his reaction is unfortunately not known.
Possible explanations range from defects in the construction for which Martinelli was unwilling to bear the responsibility to questions of design. The execution of the statuary, which was mainly the work of Giovanni Giuliani, was not fully in keeping with Martinelli’s architectural signature, schooled as he was in Roman ‘grandezza’.
As early as 1697 Johann Lucas von Hildebrandt had a hand in the construction. To him can be attributed the floral ornamentation on the balusters and the side portal onto Minoritenplatz that gave the owner direct access to the historical residence of the Reigning Prince. This direct access onto Minoritenplatz had been make possible by the acquisition of a part of the neighbouring plot to the rear, originally in the possession of Count Theodor von Sinzendorf.
However, several years were to pass before the palace could be seen from three sides, as is the case today. It was not until a house belonging to the Windischgrätz family was demolished and the creation of the Abraham-a-Sancta-Clara-Gasse around 1890 that direct access to Minoritenplatz was possible. Since this time the palace has had three exposed façades.
From 1766 the stairway was embellished with trophies and the first piano nobile modernized under the direction of the architect Isidore Canevale, who had previously carried out commissions for the imperial court. These alterations were part of the work to create appropriately stately apartments for Hereditary Prince Franz Josef von Liechtenstein (1726–1781). Surviving invoices document the purchase of precious silks, furniture and porcelain from Florence and Paris. With the renovation of the palace on Herrengasse from 1790, the palace on Bankgasse was temporarily vacated as a princely residence and let out.
Under Prince Alois II von Liechtenstein (1796–1858) both family palaces in the centre of the city underwent a survey in order to ascertain which of the two could be transformed into a modern residence for the family at the least possible expense. The choice fell on the palace on Bankgasse, which from 1837 was extensively remodelled in Rococo Revival style under the supervision of Peter Hubert Desvignes. This phase still largely characterizes the appearance of the interiors, making it the earliest example of Historicism in Vienna. While parts of the Baroque structure – for example, the stairway and ceiling panels – were preserved, the nineteenth-century remodelling did away with other parts completely, including the ballroom.
Until 1938 the palace on Bankgasse was occupied by the family, although from 1900 part of the building had been made accessible to visitors for a small fee upon request. The Second World War and the following years left their mark on the palace. A fighter plane crashed into the building, destroying parts of the stairway, and direct hits from bombs and shells caused considerable damage to other rooms and the structure of the building.
In the years following the war parts of the décor, such as the elaborate chandeliers designed by Peter Hubert Desvignes which had survived the conflict stored in the cellars, were sold and the rooms rented out as office space. Suspended ceilings and gypsum partition walls altered the appearance of the former state rooms beyond all recognition.
Initiated and financed by the reigning prince Hans-Adam II von und zu Liechtenstein (b. 1945), the complete renovation of the building started in 2008. An almost archaeological process of discovery revealed much of the original decoration, enabling it to be preserved. From the completion of work in 2013, the City Palace has housed parts of the Princely Collections: paintings, furniture, porcelain and applied arts objects from the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century are displayed in stunning period rooms and in a gallery featuring select artworks from the age of Neoclassicism and Biedermeier. The palace may be viewed by the public as part of a booked guided tour.