We said Auf Wiedersehen to Vienna by taking one more walk this morning, mostly in the Old City. At first we realized, with somewhat mixed emotions, that several buildings and squares and statues were already familiar. Had we seen it all?
It only took us three or four blocks before we were lost amid new and Clock in Hoher Markt intriguing streets and passageways. Even when we thought we'd seen everything in the Hoher Markt, we looked up and there was an enormous clock, stretched across the street between two buildings. It was beautifully carved, painted and gilded, with different human figures marching slowly across its face, one for each hour. After that we tried to pay more attention to corners and roofs and statues and other decorations; the problem there is that when you are looking up, you may fail to notice the dog poo on the sidewalk!
We progressed from one church to another. We saw the interior of Stephansdom, the traditional Vienna landmark with the towering steeple. It was dark and heavily Gothic. Just inside the front door two priests were celebrating mass in English for a small congregation. Heels clicked on the stone floor, and flashbulbs clicked for various family portraits in front of various altars. At one point someone in the congregation at the Mass stood up and took a flash photo of the priest.
One of the most important reasons to travel to Europe is to see the churches. It's beyond imagination for an American that there could be so many beautiful cathedrals, all of them architectural marvels, vaulting to heaven or domed, with so much breathtaking marble sculpture, finely carved wood, gorgeous frescoes, paintings, stonework, filled with monumental tombs and incredible church treasures. It seems as if the greatest churches in America are but a faint candle to the magnificent cathedrals of Europe. Margaretskirche towers
This said, we hope we can apologize for not treating all churches in great detail; it is beyond one's power. We trust the reader will forgive our sins of omission. Today, for example, we saw many baroque churches, all of them impressive, quite a few simply lovely, with painted domes and stained glass windows and carvings upon carvings. The oldest building in Vienna is a church. St. Ruprecht's church was built around the 12th century and has the simplicity of some of the old French romanesque churches. It also has modern stained glass windows, possibly a result of WWII.
When we weren't finding churches, we found statues, and carved doorways, and even stairs leading down to Roman ruins. The ruins looked quite sturdy. The buildings which were used for official functions of the Austro-Hungarian Empire are distinguished by massive shields and crests with sculptured and gilded crowns, such as the Bohemian Court Building (the emperor was also king of Bohemia.) One impressive monument was built by Leopold I after a plague as a gesture of humility, or so it says. The inscription beginning I, Leopold, doesn't sound especially humble, but probably the standards of humility were different then.
At the urging of friends, and after some searching, we purchased The Man Without Qualities, a long Austrian novel set in the years of WW I. The woman who sold it to us wished us luck; she has read it three times in the original German and is still learning. If we finish it, we'll add it to our travel Bosch exhibit reading list.
Once in a doctor's office we read that 'walking is a best exercise.' Well, we aspire to be living proof of that. We're atoning for decades of desk jobs. But we haven't yet reached the stage where we can walk all day long. So we took a brief rest in the hotel, worked on email, and then set out for one more foray into the world of art. Our goal was to see The Last Judgment, the triptych created by Hieronymus Bosch which is the star of the Gemaldegalerie of the Akademie der Bildenden Kunste in Wien.
To reach this incredible piece of imaginative art we walked into the building through a little opening in a tent -- it was being restored -- then up the front stairs, through the foyer, turned right, went up three flights of stairs, ignoring the students and faculty, and finally saw a neon sign pulling us like a magnet to Bosch's work.
This gallery has quite a few lovely old masters, with more of the beautiful paintings by Rubens and Lukas Cranach the Elder. But we were transfixed by the Bosch triptych, even though we'd seen and studied it many times in art books. We wondered whether Bosch's work was appreciated in his time; it must have been, or else he wouldn't have received the important contracts to produce paintings for churches and buildings. Yet his style seems to us a mystery. His representations of demons and devils, painted around 1510, remind us of the surrealist paintings done 400 years later by Dali, de Chirico, and others. Why was this imaginative style lost to the art world for 400 years? It's true that Pieter Breughel also painted some pretty strange looking demons, but Bosch's work stands out because of his wild imagination. For that matter, why is so little surrealistic work being done today?