Vienna must be one of the most elegant cities in Europe. Its small scale gives it an air of intimacy that contrasts with the grandeur of many of its buildings. That’s an appealing combination.
On our last visit we spent quite a bit of time simply strolling the streets, mainly in bright June sunshine, taking in (and photographing) all the wonderful architectural details and monuments. Let me share some of them for this week’s Photographing Public Art challenge.
The Mariensäule or Maria Column stands in the largest square in the inner city, Am Hof. It was commissioned by the Holy Roman Emperor, Ferdinand III, to thank the Virgin Mary for her aid in repelling the Swedish forces during the 30 Years’ War. She stands at the top of the granite column, surrounded by four cherubs clad in armour. These cherubs are depicted fighting against a lion, a serpent, a dragon and a basilisk, representing war, heresy, hunger and the plague.
The Art Nouveau Ankeruhr, the Anker Clock, dates from 1911-1914, and was the work of the painter and sculptor Franz von Matsch. It bridges two buildings belonging to the Anker Insurance Company (hence the name) in the Hoher Markt. Each hour one of twelve historical figures or pairs of figures move across the bridge. Every day at noon, all of the figures parade, each accompanied by music from its own era. The figures include a number of kings and queens, Joseph Hayden and others.
Elsewhere in the Hoher Markt (which means High Market) is a large fountain, the Vermählungsbrunnen. This ornate marble and bronze piece dates from 1732 and is dedicated to the wedding of Jesus’ parents, Mary and Joseph. The base on which they stand is covered by a canopy in the traditional style of Jewish weddings. Our friend pointed out that it was fortunate that the fountain escaped destruction by the Nazis, who failed to spot the Jewish symbolism. Unfortunately for photographers, the statues are covered in the netting used copiously here in Vienna to afford protection from the mess of pigeons, so are hard to capture effectively on camera.
Some architectural details
We spent much of our sunny weekend in the city simply strolling around with friends or on our own, rather than focusing on seeing specific sights. But that doesn’t mean we didn’t see a lot. In particular I enjoyed spotting and photographing a myriad of beautiful and/or interesting architectural details. The city offers Gothic, Baroque, Art Nouveau and modern in abundance; although it is probably the Baroque for which it is best known. Not being an expert I am not always sure of the period from which a building dates, especially when so many of them have been reconstructed or redeveloped over the years. But it is the flourishes of Baroque and the more recent flamboyance of Art Nouveau that continually catches my eye.
Here are a few of my favourites:
Judenplatz Holocaust Memorial
I’m finishing with something rather more modern, and more sombre. The Judenplatz was the centre of Jewish life in Vienna in medieval times. The Jews lived in a ghetto of just seventy houses, their backs turned to surrounding streets to form a wall, and in the centre was this large square. They were persecuted almost constantly. Finally in the 15th century they were driven out of this area and indeed all of Austria by Duke Albrecht V. But they returned, although settling in a different part of the city.
In this square stands a prominent memorial to the victims of the Holocaust, the work of the English artist Rachel Whiteread. Our friends have told us that at the time of its erection here in 2000 there was a lot of controversy. Not everyone felt that such a memorial was needed, while others disliked this particular design on aesthetic grounds. It is true that it is not immediately attractive. But its clean lines, such a contrast with the Baroque flamboyance of much of Vienna, have a certain calm appeal.
It is intended to resemble a library in a room, maybe from one of the surrounding houses, turned inside out. The books are uniform, and their spines turned inwards; we see only the edges of their pages. They stand for the vast number of victims, as well as the notion of Jews as the ‘People of the Book’. The library has doors, but they too are inside out and have no knobs or handles. They suggest the possibility of coming and going but cannot be opened. It is deliberately bunker-like and brutal. Beneath the ever-closed doors a text in German, Hebrew and English reads:
In commemoration of more than 65,000 Austrian Jews who were killed by the Nazis between 1938 and 1945
I last visited Vienna in 2014 when these photos were taken