The history of its construction
In 1687 Prince Johann Adam Andreas I von Liechtenstein (1657–1712) acquired a piece of land owned by the Auersperg family in the suburb of Rossau, then outside the city walls, which he subsequently enlarged with the purchase of additional plots. Right from the outset, his intention was to carry out a substantial building project, which was to become one of the rare examples of large-scale urban planning in the Austrian Baroque. Parts of this design are still recognizable in the present-day townscape of this quarter of Vienna. The site was intended not only to provide the location for a princely residence but to incorporate a planned urban settlement.
Upon completion, the domain known as Liechtenthal (today Lichtental) formed a model development laid out on a grid pattern around a church, the living of which was in the gift of the Liechtenstein family. The northern periphery was bounded by a brewhouse, while to the east were the hunting grounds that extended to the meadows and forests bordering the Danube. The core of the complex was the palace, which was also used as a hunting lodge, with its sweeping cour d’honneur surrounded by extensive gardens. A cookhouse and an orangery with a horseshoe-shaped courtyard (demolished at the beginning of the twentieth century) together with a low stable building completed the ensemble.
The earliest design for the palace complex has been preserved in the Princely Collections. On this plan, the main building occupies the same place in the gardens as the palace that was later built, and is surrounded by a wall and an arcade. With porticos on each façade, the design recalls the villas of Andrea Palladio and thus clearly draws on northern Italian models.
The first architect of note to be commissioned with the project was Johann Bernhard Fischer von Erlach. His design placed a lofty casino known as the Belvedere at the other end of the garden as a counterpart to a stately country residence. While it may be assumed that Fischer submitted plans for the complex as a whole, he was ultimately only commissioned to build the Belvedere as a punctuating element between the palace and the settlement that lay beyond it.
The prince entrusted the design of the summer palace itself to the architect Domenico Egidio Rossi, who had undergone his training in Bologna. Rather than a ‘maison de plaisance’ in the style of Fischer’s proposal with its animated, playfully curving façade, in 1690 Rossi submitted plans for a monumental foursquare palace in response to Johann Adam Andreas’ wish for a ‘palazzo in villa’ as a worthy residence for a prince on the outskirts of the imperial city. The designs having met with the prince’s approval, work commenced in 1691. In accord with the interior structure, the central hall dominated the exterior appearance of the building. Subordinated to this were flanking elements with exterior stairways – a clear reminiscence of northern Italian villas from the seicento.
From 1692 Domenico Egidio Rossi’s design was altered by Domenico Martinelli. Having taught at the famous Accademia di San Lucca in Rome until he agreed to come to Vienna, Martinelli became the prince’s preferred architect after 1690 and had already begun overseeing work on the city palace in 1691. In contrast to Rossi’s design, he added an additional storey to the flanking elements, giving the palace a considerably more imposing and cohesive appearance. Its three storeys also conformed to the requirements that the prince’s father Karl Eusebius I von Liechtenstein (1611–1684) had formulated for a princely country seat. The interior of the palace is dominated by a symmetrical sequence of rooms, with the spacious Sala terrena followed by two facing grand staircases which lead up to the piano nobile and the Great Hall with its surrounding rooms.
The prince also sought to engage Italian artists for the decoration of the palace. The Bolognese painter Marcantonio Franceschini supplied the ceiling paintings for the piano nobile and two series of paintings depicting subjects from Ovid’s “Metamorphoses”. After vain attempts to attract Italian fresco artists to Vienna, the commission for the frescos on the ground floor was given to Johann Michael Rottmayr, who had previously worked in Salzburg and Vienna, where he had executed commissions for the imperial family. The prince entrusted him with the frescoing of the Sala terrena, the two suites on the ground floor with three rooms each, and finally the decoration of the two stairways with monumental ceiling panels.
For the decoration of the Hercules Hall on the first floor the prince secured the services of Andrea Pozzo, then approaching the end of a long and successful career. The stucco decoration in the palace, still preserved in its entirety, was executed by Santino Bussi, while the sculptures decorating both the interior of the building and the gardens were made by the Italian-Austrian sculptor Giovanni Giuliani.
A formal Baroque garden was laid out between the palace and Fischer’s Belvedere, only to be replaced by an English landscape park in the 1770s. The plane trees that still provide shade in the park today are part of the stands of trees planted at the turn of the eighteenth to the nineteenth century.
Alterations and adaptations in the late 18th and 19th century; the gallery moves in
The front of the palace was originally more or less concealed from outside view by stables that enclosed the cour d’honneur in a semicircle. It was not until alterations were carried out from the 1790s onwards by the prince’s architects Joseph Hardtmuth and subsequently Joseph Kornhäusel, when the buildings at the apex of the semicircle were demolished and the existing enclosure with the neoclassical gate as the entrance to the courtyard was erected, that an uninterrupted view of the palace’s monumental façade was opened up, a view that we can still enjoy from Fürstengasse (Princes Street) today.
A number of remodelling projects and changes to the interior décor were carried out under the supervision of the architect Hardtmuth. These resulted from a decision made by Prince Johann I von Liechtenstein (1760–1836) to transfer the collections from the city palace to the Rossau between 1806 and 1810 with the intention of putting them on public display in the summer palace and the Belvedere designed by Fischer von Erlach, still standing at the time.
In the 1790s the original stone floors on the piano nobile – with the exception of the Hercules Hall – were replaced with walnut flooring, and some of the windows in the corner rooms on the same floor were walled up in order to increase hanging space. Alterations were also made in the large ceremonial hall: four of the five doorways between the Hercules Hall and the Great Gallery were also blocked up, as were all the windows on the north wall, thereby creating sufficient space for displaying Rubens’s monumental “Decius Mus cycle”. Prior to this, the articulation of the windows on the exterior wall of this room had been repeated on the wall separating the Hercules Hall from the Gallery. This had meant that Pozzo’s ceiling fresco was originally illuminated from both sides. The room itself was decorated in classicizing style with sculptures by Antonio Canova and plaster casts after antique statues.
Later changes were made to the second floor and the stairways, which were fitted with some of the ceiling paintings by Antonio Bellucci (1654–1726) that had been successively removed from the palace on Bankgasse from 1819.
The walls of the galleries were painted dark green. A watercolour by the photographer Raimund Stillfried von Rathenitz dating from 1902 and a number of photographs taken by him document their appearance at the time.
Around 1873 Fischer’s Baroque Belvedere in the gardens was demolished to make way for a new edifice. Together with its grottos and neighbouring hothouses, which had been continuously extended, in particular by Prince Johann I, it had provided Viennese society with ample amusement over the years. In 1873–75 an elongated palatial building designed by Heinrich von Ferstel in Renaissance Revival style was erected along Alserbachstrasse and has marked the northern end of the park ever since.
The palace in the twentieth century
As the palace continued to be occupied over the years, more changes occurred: the Hercules Hall was redecorated in neoclassical style, only for these alterations to the original Baroque fabric to be reversed shortly afterwards at the beginning of the twentieth century, when Prince Johann II von Liechtenstein (1840–1929) had the neoclassical décor replaced with neo-Baroque elements such as chimney-pieces and stucco wall panels. These adaptations were complemented by the hanging of three paintings from Marcantonio Franceschini’s Ovid cycle on the long north wall of the hall.
Between 1912 and 1914 the Historical Library, originally part of the Liechtenstein palace on Herrengasse that was sold in 1912 and demolished the following year, was installed in the former Gentlemen’s Apartments.
The events following the seizure of power by the National Socialists brought drastic changes for the palace. In 1938 the gallery was closed to the general public, bringing an abrupt end to the exhibition of the Princely Collections at the Liechtenstein summer palace after 130 years. The Princely Family moved its place of residence to Vaduz in 1938, and their art treasures were also eventually transferred there during the final weeks of the war.
In the following years new uses for the palace had to be found. Between 1957 and 1978 the Austrian Centre for Construction installed an exhibition of showcase homes in the park, also presenting a survey of products and services provided by the building industry and related trades in Austria. The Hercules Hall was also used as an exhibition space for these prefabricated houses.
From 26 April 1979, the palace, which had remained in the ownership of the family, became the exhibition space for holdings from the Museum des 20. Jahrhunderts, renamed as the Museum Moderner Kunst Stiftung Ludwig in 1991. Works from the collection of Irene and Peter Ludwig from Aachen were displayed at the palace until 1999. In 2001 the collection was moved to Vienna’s MuseumsQuartier, where they have been displayed ever since at the mumok (Museum moderner Kunst Stiftung Ludwig Wien).
The return of the princely art holdings to the summer palace and its reopening as a gallery
From 2000 to 2003 the summer palace underwent complete restoration in preparation for its reopening as an exhibition space for holdings from the Princely Collections, a project designed and supervised by Johann Kräftner, director of the Princely Collections. The opening of the LIECHTENSTEIN MUSEUM in March 2004 finally made a part of the princely holdings accessible once again to the general public in Vienna, establishing the palace as a highlight on the city’s rich museum scene. In doing so it reforged the link with the centuries-old tradition of the Princely Collections, opening up this important private collection to the public in the place where it had originally been presented.
From the beginning of 2012 the museum with fixed opening hours evolved into a new visiting model. Since then the galleries of the Liechtenstein Summer Palace have continued to serve as exhibition space for the Princely Collections with a focus on art and applied arts from before 1800. The 180 or so artworks displayed in the permanent exhibition can be viewed as part of a guided tour of the palace. In addition, from 2022 the museum will be open to the public for a month in an annual special exhibition entitled MARCH AT THE PALACE. Alongside the temporary exhibition presented in the Ladies’ Apartments, which will be devoted to a different theme each year, the Sala terrena and the Historical Library can be visited free of charge. During this month there will also be an increased number of guided tours of the galleries on a variety of themes.