Vienna, Austria …named Eugene. He was born in France in 1663, but left there as a young man when Louis XIV denied him a military post. You really couldn’t blame Louis. Eugene’s mother had supposedly been Louis’s lover, but when she fell out of favor at court, she starting associating with a group who practiced the “black arts” and had to leave the country when a nefarious poison plot got revealed. So she was absolutely no help and Eugene’s interest in the military had to take a different direction, as he was not on speaking terms with Louis.
He headed to Austria, which just at that moment needed all the help it could get. The Ottoman Turks had already invaded Hungary, and were at the gates of Vienna. Eugene won great applause for his leadership in helping defeat the Turks. His decisive rout of the Turks at Zenta ended the Ottomans’ efforts to invade, and it made him a hero throughout Europe.
Flash forward through lots of campaign successes and failures, and applaud when Eugene, partnering with the Duke of Marlborough at the Battle of Blenheim, defeated the French, in an ironic twist of fate. Many other battles and geo-political entanglements followed, but, at the end of day, Eugene was a very rich man who was hailed as the greatest of all Austrian generals. What else do we know about him?
I’m not one to spread rumors, but there are more than a few contemporary sources that describe poor Prince Eugene’s looks in an unflattering manner. Word is, he had a huge nose, buck teeth, a pot belly, a frequently noted tendency to cavort with the boys, and possibly to cross-dress. These are probably all vicious rumors put about by the French, being sore losers. Their word has to be taken with a grain of salt, of course, but Eugene certainly showed them all up on the battlefield and by the ways he celebrated his successes.
One of his many residences was the Belvedere Palace in Vienna. He had the resources to compete with the Habsburgs and he did his best to outshine them. The Belvedere is really two palaces in one. Prince Eugene lived in the lower one and entertained in the upper one, in grand style.
The landscaping in between is quite elaborate with lots of water features.
Both parts of the palace complex became art galleries upon Prince Eugene’s death in 1736, and are now world-class museums. The largest collection of works by Austria’s most notable artist, Gustav Klimt, reside here, including The Kiss and Judith.
The palaces themselves are lavish, and the decorators were not shy about glorifying Prince Eugene, including statues (see above) and ceiling paintings that deify him and his virtues. The decor overall is over the top, and it’s amazing any marble was left by the time the palaces were built. The massive Marble Hall in the Upper Belvedere was the site of the signing of the agreement in 1955 that allowed Austria to regain its sovereignty after WWII.
The art in the Upper Palace is a very mixed collection, but all generally quite good. My personal favorite was the Drunken Slovakian Peasants Racing Teams of Horses, since we’ve been there and all. But it was nice to see Van Gogh and some other impressionists represented. And of course there was the obligatory painting of both Empress Sisi and Emperor Franz Josef, as well as that of poor Franz Josef on his death bed.
The Lower Palace is used for temporary exhibits and we saw two today. One was about Venice, and how it became the literary and fantasy mecca that it remains today. Austria has a paternal interest in Venice as it was once part of the Austro-Hungarian empire. A good excuse for an exhibit.
And then it got very avant-garde, with an exhibit knotting Salvador Dali together with Sigmund Freud. Dali wanted to meet Freud long before he had his one audience, but evidently his wish took the form of an obsession. Could that explain Dali?
A very stimulating dose of history and art, with lots of good stories included.
Don’s Food Corner
Eugene left behind a very pleasant café in his Upper Palace. So, on this rainy, cold day, we nestled in there for lunch.
Jo was thrilled to find wiener schnitzel — although made with pork and not veal. It came with a few nicely boiled potatoes and a little tossed salad. Her grade: A-. The breading to meat ratio was correct. The meat, although not veal, was tender and not over-cooked. This is more like it!
I had something featuring spaetzel and cheeses. I think it was Austrian mac and cheese. The cheese was an Austrian variety, so not a drop of Velveeta or Cheddar in sight. It was OK, but a little dry. For some reason there was a whole chili pepper coiled on top. Jo averted her gaze.
All in all, it provided good sustenance for an afternoon of art viewing.