Category Archives: Austria

For Halloween: These Are a Few of My Favorite Tombs

Since Halloween is historically about honoring the souls of the departed, I’m paying a virtual visit to some of the most memorable resting places I’ve seen on my travels. Above is the tomb of Catherine Parr, the only one of Henry VIII’s wives who managed to outlive him. She rests in St. Mary’s Church on the grounds of Sudeley Castle, where she lived part of her turbulent life. Previous posts about Catherine are at:

https://castlesandcoffeehouses.com/2013/08/12/visiting-sudeley-castle/

https://castlesandcoffeehouses.com/2013/08/05/sudeley-castle-home-of-three-queens/

Here’s the churchyard of Eyam Parish Church in Derbyshire, England.  Eyam was a remote village when the bubonic plague struck in 1665. Everybody know the disease was contagious, but nobody knew exactly how it spread. (Much later, it turned out it spread via fleas that fed on rats). Under the leadership of the rector, Reverend William Mompesson and the Puritan minister, Thomas Stanley, the villagers chose to quarantine themselves for the fourteen months of the outbreak.  Only about 80 of the villagers survived out of the 350 who lived there. Geraldine Brooks wrote a wonderful historical novel about the plague village, “Year of Wonders,” 2001.

Haddon Hall is a well-preserved medieval house in Derbyshire. Its St. Nicholas chapel dates from the 1400s or earlier. The chapel contains one of the most beautiful and touching memorials I’ve ever seen, a marble effigy of young Lord Haddon, who died in 1894 at the age of 9.

His mother, Violet, Duchess of Rutland, designed it in his memory.

A nobleman whose name is lost to me has one of the best resting places I know of. His tomb is in a side chapel of the Augustinian Church in Vienna. It’s the parish church of the Hapsburg royal family, connected directly to their Hofburg Palace. The tomb’s occupant has his own personal perpetual mourner to keep him company when things are quiet.

But for November and December, he has plenty of company. The church ladies run a charming little Christmas market with handcrafted items. And they serve homemade cakes and coffee. It’s a cheerful resting place.

https://castlesandcoffeehouses.com/2014/04/11/a-cheerful-resting-place/

Where I live in the mountains of Colorado, Halloween is a weeklong party. Everybody in town takes every opportunity to dress up as somebody else.

But November 1 is All Saints’ Day, celebrated in many churches as a day to remember “all saints, known and unknown” who are no longer with us. Sadly, we also need to honor all those lost in the senseless violence in our country and elsewhere. Wishing one and all a Halloween full of laughter and an All Saints’ Day full of remembrance.

Christmas Markets in Europe

042

This photo is of skaters at one of the great Christmas markets, the one that takes up the main streets of Munich. As I sadly and angrily think of the carnage this week at the market in Berlin, I thought I’d post some photos of markets I’ve loved over the years–not that I ever buy much.  The point is for people to be together, enjoying the season and laughing at ice and snow.

p1070197

Vienna has some of the most beautiful markets, each with its own unique flavor. The one at the Rathaus–the City Hall–is the largest and has the most festive lights.  For weeks before Christmas, it’s packed day and night with happy people strolling, eating and drinking.

christkindlangel

Inside the august halls of the Rathaus, the Christkindl angel speaks with thrilled little children. In Austria and Germany, the angel seems to serve somewhat the same function as a visit to Santa in the United States.  But it has not become a big photo op–it’s just a chance visit, all the more thrilling because it can’t really be planned.

Children sign up for gift workshops in the Rathaus, making presents for their loved ones.  No hovering adults are allowed.  I would love to receive a lopsided gingerbread man from the baking workshop.

p1050023

My favorite Vienna market is the one in the plaza of the historic Karlskirche.

The Karlskirche market is especially kid-oriented.  There’s a big straw play area with animals ready for the bolder kids to pet.

p1070549

One of the most popular activities at Karlskirche is to lead a gentle llama around on a leash.  As soon as I find the photo, I’ll post it! Meanwhile, I’ll dream of being in Austria or Germany again at a Christmas market–hopefully in snow.

I haven’t posted in awhile because on my last trip I caught a nasty virus which took awhile to overcome.  Am I discouraged about traveling? Not a chance.  I’ll be on a plane again as soon as I can. And I’ll be praying for world peace and harmony.

Join me next time for more explorations in European art, history and culture!

 

 

Las Meninas: A Velazquez Masterpiece

Diego Velazquez, "Las Meninas," 1656-7, Public Domain, Prado Museum

Diego Velazquez, “Las Meninas,” 1656-7, Public Domain, Prado Museum

In around 1656-57, the great Spanish court painter Diego Velazquez was at the height of his powers, both as an artist and as a courtier.  King Philip IV appointed him not only to paint portraits of the royal family, but also to acquire and curate the royal art collection. Velazquez was more than a mere painter; he lived almost as a member of the royal family. Many people think Las Meninas is the greatest painting in all of Western art.

Pablo Picasso, "Las Meninas," image from Guggenheim website cited below

Pablo Picasso, “Las Meninas,” image from Guggenheim website cited below

In 1957, Pablo Picasso painted over 40 of his own versions of the painting. One of the greatest artists of modern times was carefully studying and paying tribute to a great artist of the past.

In the original painting, Velazquez did not have the red cross of the Order of Santiago emblazoned on his chest; he only received it three years later.  Philip IV ordered the cross to be added to the painting after the death of Velazquez. Legend has it that the King personally painted it.

The central figure is Princess Margarita Teresa, at the time the only living child of her parents, King Philip IV and his second wife Mariana of Austria. They’re in the background of the painting, possibly reflected in a strategically placed mirror. Also present are two ladies-in-waiting, two dwarves, a lady chaperone, a chamberlain, a bodyguard, and a friendly-looking mastiff.  And the artist himself is present, with brush and palette. The names of all the people are known, except the bodyguard.

Detail from "Las Meninas," Public Domain

Detail from “Las Meninas,” Public Domain

I’ll leave it to art historians to explicate what all Velazquez wanted to say in his magnum opus.  I’m drawn to the enchanting figure of little Margarita Teresa, age 5.  This was a golden moment in her short but seemingly happy life. The painting was almost destroyed by a fire in 1734.  Fortunately, it was rescued.  The left cheek of the princess was burned, but it was painstakingly restored.

The spectacular Velazquez exhibit at the Vienna Kunsthistorisches Museum last year had to make do with a reproduction of Las Meninas. The masterpiece is too precious for the Prado to lend out.

One of the pleasures of a major museum exhibit is a stop at the gift shop.  What souvenirs did the marketing people come up with? I thought they outdid themselves for the Velazquez exhibit.

b0621be3-02a5-45d1-948c-0c761a6a6c2e_0

Anyone for a t-shirt with the most fetching images from the great paintings? On the black cotton background, they show up almost as elegantly as the figures in Las Meninas.

bf1a76db-61b1-499e-a562-3a645ca4bafd_0

Or how about a set of salt and pepper shakers? The salt is the adorable Margarita Teresa.  The pepper is Diego Velazquez himself, complete with brush, palette and the cross of the Order of Santiago. I’m still kicking myself for not buying them.

An article about Picasso’s Las Meninas is at http://web.guggenheim.org/exhibitions/picasso/artworks/maids_of_honor

Join me next time for more explorations in the art and history of Europe!

St. Jerome and His Lion

Niccolo Antonio Colantonio,

Niccolo Antonio Colantonio, “Jerome in his Study,” c. 1440-1470, Public Domain, National Museum of Capodimonte

One of my favorite saints is Jerome, AKA Saint Hieronymous. Why? Because he befriended a lion in the wilderness–or at least so the legend goes. In the painting above, the lion has ventured into the saint’s dusty study with a thorn in his paw.  Jerome sets his book aside and carefully removes the thorn.  In other depictions, the saint comes across the lion, writhing in pain, out in the wilds. Either way, the legend is that from the moment Jerome extracted the thorn, the lion never left his side.

Jerome was born around the year 347 A.D.  He lived mostly in what is now Croatia.  A scholarly fellow, he became one of the earliest Doctors of the Church, before titles like “Cardinal” existed.  One of his main accomplishments was translating the Bible into Latin, from its original Aramaic and Greek.

Jacopo Tintoretto,

Jacopo Tintoretto, “St. Jerome,” c. 1570, Public Domain, Vienna Kunsthistorisches Museum

In paintings, the lion often lurks under a table or in a dark corner.

IMG_3174

I took the two photos just above in the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna. I love the legend, and whenever I’m in an art museum I’m on the lookout for images of Jerome and his lion. They have been painted countless times.

IMG_3495

Whenever I spot Jerome and his lion, I move in for a closeup.

Workshop of David Gerard, Saint Jerome in a Landscape, about 1501, my photo taken in National Gallery, London

Workshop of David Gerard, Saint Jerome in a Landscape, about 1501, my photo taken in National Gallery, London

To me, Jerome’s friendship with his lion is part of his concern for the whole creation.

Antonello da Messina,

Antonello da Messina, “Saint Jerome in His Study,” about 1475, my photo taken in National Gallery, London

Sometimes the lion is not underfoot, but he’s always close by.
FullSizeRender (3)

The faithful lion is always present.  In the painting of Jerome in the large study above, he’s patrolling the perimeter. No matter what, the lion always had Jerome’s back.

Giovanni Bellini, Saint Jerome Reading in a Landscape, circa 1480-5, my photo taken in National Gallery, London

Giovanni Bellini, Saint Jerome Reading in a Landscape, circa 1480-5, my photo taken in National Gallery, London

If the lion’s face is shown, he always has a friendly, grateful, loyal face–much like a shy family dog. He tends to look a little wary–who is about to disturb his friend Jerome?

FullSizeRender (2)

Are these paintings just sentimental portrayals of a serious saint who should be remembered for much more than a story that may not have happened at all?  The subject is the medieval and Renaissance equivalent of sharing cute animal videos online.

On a busy day, a couple of minutes spent watching photogenic animals feels to me like a guilty pleasure. What am I accomplishing by watching a gorilla rock a kitten to sleep or a sheepdog rescue a teacup pig from drowning?  Well, I’m not getting a thing done, but I’m pausing in a busy day to learn compassion from animals. Like those videos, the images of St. Jerome and his lion give us an appreciation of our bond with the animals who share our world. The animals mostly treat each other and our world better than we humans do. If I were St. Jerome, I wouldn’t mind being remembered as an animal lover as well as a high-powered scholar.

Join me next time for more explorations in the art and history of Europe!

Margarita Teresa: A Cheerful Infanta

Diego Velazquez,

Diego Velazquez, “Portrait of the Infanta Maria Teresa of Spain,” 1652, Public Domain

It’s just as well we can’t see into the future.  The series of Velazquez portraits of Spain’s Infanta Margarita Teresa are some of the most charming images of childhood ever recorded. Her life was happy, but far too short. Margarita Teresa was born in 1651, daughter of King Philip IV of Spain and his second wife Mariana of Austria.

On the birth of a royal child, the Habsburgs immediately began looking for ways to cement the dynasty.  This usually involved intermarriage.  Most of us would not consider our uncle AND our first cousin as what we used to call “dating material,” but Margarita had no choice in the matter. As a baby, she was betrothed to Leopold I, Holy Roman Emperor. He was both her maternal uncle and her paternal cousin. (In my family, holidays like Thanksgiving are tense enough, what with all the unaccustomed family togetherness.  I can only imagine  trying to get through a festive meal of turkey and cranberries with the Habsburgs. At the very least, I think there would be snarky comments.  There could be a food fight).

"Portrait of Leopold I, Holy Roman Emperor," unknown artist, late 17th century, Public Domain

“Portrait of Leopold I, Holy Roman Emperor,” unknown artist, late 17th century, Public Domain

Leopold, 11 years older, was more than happy with his prospective bride.  To sweeten the pot, her father had made sure that she remained in the Spanish line of succession and would pass on her rights to any descendants.

Leopold naturally wanted to follow the progress of his bride as she grew up, and the Spanish court had the great painter Diego Velazquez at the ready.  He supplied enchanting portraits of the child as she grew. The portraits were sent straight to Leopold in Vienna.  The Kunsthistorisches Museum still has them. The portrait at the beginning of this article, showing the child at age 2, was the first. The child still had her fair baby hair, fluffy and unstyled.

Diego Velazquez,

Diego Velazquez, “La Infanta Margarita Teresa,” 1653-56, Public Domain

Velazquez painted Margarita Teresa again a couple of years later. She was lovely and serene. She looks a little shy, but she was clearly accustomed to wearing a grand gown and being admired.

Diego Velazquez,

Diego Velazquez, “Infanta Margarita Teresa in a Blue Dress,” 1659, Public Domain

One of the most famous depictions, above, showed Margarita Teresa at age 8, wearing a blue dress. She looks older than her age, and more than a little apprehensive.  She must have begun to understand her daunting obligations and her rapidly-approaching future by this time.

Jan

Jan Thomas, “Infanta Margarita Teresa,” 1667, Public Domain, Vienna Kunsthistorisches Museum

At age 15, just after the death of her father, Margarita Teresa went off to her destiny in Vienna. A German painter, Jan Thomas, painted her portrait in 1667, when she was 16. To me, she looks stiff and unhappy. Her towering headdress overpowers her slight frame, on which so much depended for her family’s royal succession. She looks thin and pale, too.  And why is there a statue in the background, looking over her shoulder and raising a hand as if to ask what she’s up to? The Viennese court was famous for its rigid protocols.  I imagine Margarita Teresa rarely had a moment to herself. Yet, in spite of the age difference, she and Leopold reportedly had a happy marriage.

Of course the teenager immediately began her child-bearing duties. Margarita Teresa had four living children, plus a number of miscarriages in her young life. Only one child survived, Maria Antonia of Austria. But the years of constant pregnancy had taken a toll.  Sadly, Margarita Teresa died at age 21.  Never having seen her native Spain again, she was buried in the Imperial Crypt in Vienna.

I wrote about Margarita Teresa’s ill-fated brothers, Balthasar Charles and Felipe Prospero, in two previous posts:

https://castlesandcoffeehouses.com/2015/07/27/velazquez-in-vienna/

https://castlesandcoffeehouses.com/2015/07/28/prince-felipe-…-a-sad-infante/

An article about the family church in Vienna, where Margarita Teresa was married at age 15, is at https://castlesandcoffeehouses.com/2014/12/01/habsburgs-hatc…and-dispatched/ (“Habsburgs Hatched, Matched and Dispatched”)

Join me next time for more explorations in the art and history of Europe!

Prince Felipe Prospero: A Sad Infante

Diego Velazquez,

Diego Velazquez, “Prince Philip Prospero,” circa 1660, Public Domain, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna

This painting is one of my very favorite works of the great Spanish court painter Diego Rodriguez de Silva y Velazquez.  It’s a loving depiction of Infante Felipe (Philip) Prospero around 1660. (Infante and Infanta were the titles of boy and girl royal children, respectively). Felipe Prospero was born in 1657. He was a long-awaited heir to the Spanish throne. His father was Philip IV of Spain;  his mother was Philip’s second wife, Mariana of Austria.  A son was essential; otherwise the husbands of Philip’s daughters would fight over the throne when he was gone.

Diego Velazquez,

Diego Velazquez, “Equestrian Portrait of Prince Balthasar Charles,” 1634-35, Public Domain, Prado Museum

The previous male heir, Prince Balthasar Charles, had died as a teenager, eleven years earlier. His death dashed the hopes of Philip IV for a stirring military career for his son.  As a devout Catholic, Philip believed that his sins had somehow caused the death of Balthasar. (Actually, the cause was most likely the collective sins of his family, who for many generations intermarried with their Habsburg cousins in order to keep their hold on power).

Felipe Prospero was greeted with ecstatic celebrations and baptized at the earliest possible moment, to the great joy of his parents and their subjects.  Water was brought from the River Jordan for the baptism.  The Spanish people celebrated with masquerades, bullfights, processions and also getting drunk and breaking up furniture. But the child was sickly, a fact that Velazquez did not try to hide.

FullSizeRender (1)

Felipe Prospero is pale. His eyes have a hollow look. Years of inbreeding between the Spanish and Austrian royal families had left him with a damaged immune system.

FullSizeRender

The amulets tied around his waist and across his chest were meant to ward off disease.

Nothing could help his worst medical problem, though.  Inbreeding had left Felipe severely epileptic. The child lived for only a short time after Velazquez painted this portrait. He died of a violent epileptic seizure in 1661, at age 3.

FullSizeRender (2)

The painting captures the little boy’s wistful beauty, his fragility, and the sadness that surrounded him.  His little dog seems already to be mourning the child’s early death.

Velazquez was honored with a special exhibition last winter in Vienna.  The museum already has the largest collection of Velazquez paintings outside of Spain, and more were brought in for the spectacular exhibition. Because the Habsburgs enthusiastically intermarried with their Spanish cousins, Velazquez was kept busy painting portraits of prospective brides and grooms at various ages. The portraits are enchanting–and haunting.

Diego Velazquez,

Diego Velazquez, “Self Portrait,” 1640, Public Domain

Velazquez painted this self 
portrait the year before his own death in 1660.  I imagine the artist had a special feeling for this delicate child, so near to death at such an early age. To me, this painting is a profound reflection of the frailty and brevity of human life.My previous post told the story of Felipe’s older brother, Prince Balthasar Charles.  It’s at https://castlesandcoffeehouses.com/2015/07/27/velazquez-in-vienna/

Join me next time for more explorations in the art and history of Europe!

Velazquez in Vienna: Prince Balthasar Charles

DSCN9263

Last winter the Vienna Kunsthistorisches Museum had a wonderful exhibit of paintings by the Spanish master, Diego Velazquez. Many of them were from the museum’s stellar collection by the artist, but some, like the portrait used for the banners, were borrowed.

The December week I spent in Vienna it rained all day, every day. Sometimes, it is true, the rain was only a gentle mist.  But I never saw a single moment without some kind of wetness falling from the gray sky.

ViennaRain

Snow in Vienna is beautiful and romantic.  Rain? Not so much. Still, there is more than enough to do indoors in culture-rich Vienna. I always say that I don’t travel to Europe for the weather.

Diego Velazquez,

Diego Velazquez, “Self Portrait,” 1640, Public Domain

Diego Velazquez, considered by many to be the greatest of all European painters, was an honored guest at the Kunsthistorisches Museum. I had a yearly museum pass, so I ducked into the Kunst almost every day. I was often dripping wet, but each time I stashed my raincoat and revisited the Velazquez exhibit, I forgot all about being chilled and damp. I felt as though I had been to sunny Spain for awhile. The museum owns a number of the works of Velazquez, because of the close family ties (inbreeding, actually) between the Habsburgs and Spanish royalty.

The young boy in the portrait below was (literally) the poster child for the exhibit. Who was this boy?

Diego Velazquez,

Diego Velazquez, “Equestrian Portrait of Prince Balthasar Charles,” 1634-35, Public Domain, Prado Museum

The child posed confidently on a galloping horse was Prince Balthasar Charles, Prince of Asturias. He was the long-awaited male heir to the Spanish throne, the only son of King Philip IV and his first wife, Elisabeth of Spain. The Prince was born to great fanfare in 1629.

The boy appears to be at most eight or ten years old in his portrait, but that didn’t stop his parents from having him painted brandishing the baton of a Field Marshal.  He was born to lead, educated to lead, and expected to lead. King Philip IV faced challenges to the continuing rule of his family.  He needed this heir desperately. The hopes of his family and his country rested on this little boy’s shoulders. Sadly, Prince Balthasar Charles died at the age of 17 from smallpox.

Eugène Charpentier,

Eugène Charpentier,
” Jean-Baptiste, comte Jourdan, maréchal de France,” mid-19th century, Public Domain

Monarchies all over Europe awarded batons to important military officers, royal or merely aristocratic.  I imagine a Marshal wielding his baton the way Moses wielded the rod he used to lead the people of Israel.  Possibly the Biblical story is even one of the origins of the marshal’s baton. In most European armies, Field Marshal was the highest military rank, above even a General.  Usually it was awarded only to a person who was already a General, and only after extraordinary achievement, like winning an important battle. But the marshal’s baton in this portrait was purely wishful thinking.

Prince Balthasar Charles never had his chance at glory on the battlefield. His family waited eleven long years for another male heir.  My next post will tell the story of that Spanish royal child, subject of one of my very favorite Velazquez masterpieces.

Join me next time for more explorations in the art and history of Europe!