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From Dürer to Napoleon - The Origins of the Albertina

Category: Exhibition 14. April 2014

The current exhibition „From Dürer to Napoleon - The Origins of the Albertina” shows masterpieces of the Albertina’s collection in the context of the exciting biographies of its founders – prince Albert of Saxony, duke of Teschen and his wife the archduchess Marie Christine, daughter of empress Maria Theresia.

The marriage in 1766 was a marriage of love, unusual for the times and Prince Albert disposed of an enormous budget for his collection, thanks to the fortune of his wife. It was also her who brought the appreciation of art into the marriage; already in 1766 she presented her husband with a volume of graphic prints. The period documented by the show covers an era lasting from 1738 to 1822.

It was 238 years ago that the Albertina collection was founded by Prince Albert of Saxony, on the 4th of July 1776. In that year the couple undertook an educational trip to Italy. On this 4th of July the Genoese art expert and Austrian ambassador Count Giacomo Durazzo handed him over what he had been entrusted with and had prepared for two years: a selection of 1000 etchings, depicting the history of painting. In this exhibition, Durazzo is to be seen in a portrait by Martin van Meytens, together with his wife. The collection would eventually comprise more than 14.000 drawings and 20.000 graphic prints.

This extensive exhibition reunites the show-pieces of the collection – starting from Michelangelo to Leonardo, Rembrandt and Rubens to Caspar David Friedrich and many others. The famous water colour Young Hare by Dürer is on public display for the first time since 2003. It dates from 1502 and is extremely light sensitive; therefore it is exhibited behind a filter glass. In the permanent exhibition it is present only as a facsimile and otherwise stored in a safe.

On display there are the knee-length portrait of an apostle by Da Vinci, or the children’s portraits by Rubens, as well as Dürer’s Praying Hands, Rembrandt’s elephant, a lion by Fragonard, the witches by Hans Baldung Grien, Raphael’s Madonna with the pomegranate, then there is a Freemason with a pug in porcelain, a sumptuous regalia of the order of Leopold, tapestries from Paris, a rapier beset with emeralds, as well as one of the hats Napoleon wore during the battle of Eylau in 1814.

There are also the construction plans for Laeken palace in Brussels on display, from where the couple had to flee after the invasion by French revolutionary troops in 1792. Therefore the works of art are to be considered in the context of numerous documents of the period and give a thorough insight into an entire era and its lifestyle.

In the view of curator Christian Benedik and director Klaus Albrecht Schröder, the founding history of the Albertina is closely related to the biographies of the two founders. Their life stations in Dresden, Rome, Paris, Brussels and Vienna show the centres of the era’s politics and arts and provide an impression of the European aristocracies’ life as well as the beginning age of enlightenment.

Albert considered himself an enlightened prince, he was a Freemason and had the largest ducal library in Europe, with 25.000 volumes. After the fall of the monarchy in 1918 this library was widely scattered. It can only by retraced in its inventory and not be reconstructed anymore. In this exhibition, wall coverings and partly original furniture allow the visitors to get an impression of the lifestyle in this building, before it was almost completely emptied after World War I, except for the art collection. The graphical collection was inalienable thanks to a fideicommissum in the last will of the prince and eventually passed into public ownership. This last will of the prince who survived his wife for 24 years also constitutes the end of the exhibition.

An exhibition-portrait by CastYourArt. | | text written by Cem Angeli

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