Cultural Anthropology of Baroque architecture in Austria

Exploring Austria through its Eclectic Art History and Rich Culture

The picturesque sceneries are not the only attraction of the Alpina nation Austria. It’s artistic expression represents the diverse art forms and its rich cultural heritage of the country which has contributed to the world of art immensely. At the crossroads of the Mediterranean, Germanic, and Eastern Europe, cradled is Austria. 

Cultural Anthropology of Rococo art in Austria
Rococo Art in Austria

The nation is renowned for the grandeur of its baroque and churches and rococo palaces. Austria also consists of internationally famous modern and gothic architecture. In this post, I’ll try to touch on all types of art forms as a part of cultural anthropology, beginning with the history of music as the country is the hub of Romantic and Classical music. 

Music in Austria

The contribution of Austria in the world of music is not only limited to the major works of the outsiders like Johannes Brahms from Hamburg, Ludwig van Beethoven from Bonn, and Richard Strauss from Munich who are essentially associated with the musical heart spot of Austria, Vienna. Some native artists are a huge part of Austrian music including Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Anton Bruckner, Joseph Haydn, Hugo Wolf, and Gustav Mahler. 

The contemporary music of Austria was pioneered by Alban Berg, Arnold Schoenberg, and Anton Webern who are collectively referred to as the Second Viennese School. The two popular genres of music operetta and waltz are also associated with Vienna. The two forms discovered their common source in one person named Johann Strauss the Younger who in the nineteenth century with his brothers Eduard and Josef along with their father Johann Strauss the Elder formed a virtual musical dynasty. The operetta in Vienna was vehemently inspired by the Hungarian and Slavic regions of the Austrian empire and reached its pique in 1900 with the composer Franz Lehar. 

History of Visual Art in Austria

Anthropology of the Early Ecclesiastical Art

In the medieval period, most of the art was church art. The sole survivors are a few illuminated manuscripts from the Carolingian period, now preserved in the National Library in Vienna. Among these manuscripts, the most well-known is the “Cutbercht Evangeliar” from around eight hundred which is a richly illuminated duplication of the four gospels.

In between 1000 and 1190, the Romanesque era reached its pique. One of the noteworthy items of this time is the Admont Great Bible which was crafted about 1140. The renowned goldsmith named Nicolas de Verdun created one of the exquisite quality enamel works in Europe in 1181 for the stand at the Klosterneuburg Abbey.

One of the fifty-one plates by Nicolas de Verdun
One of the fifty-one plates by Nicolas de Verdun

The fifty-one small panels of Verdun describe the religious tracts of the Augustinians which are made of gold and enamel. After a fire in the 1300s, the panels were relocated where they can be seen today at the altarpiece named Verdun Altar at Klosterneuburg.

Austrian Art in the Gothic Age

In Austra, the Gothic age is more memorable for its architecture than its sculpture and painting. The eve of the Gothic sculpture was inspired by Zigzag Style or Zachbruchiger Stil that is recognized by vivid angular outlines of forms against the contradictory backgrounds. The greatest surviving sculptures in this period are dated back to around 1320, involving “Servant’s Madonna” and “Enthroned Madonna of Klosterneuburg” that are presented in the St. Stephan’s Cathedral in Vienna.

Cultural anthropology of Servant's Madonna in Austria
Servant’s Madonna
Credit: betondarts

Bohemia vehemently influenced the sculpture of Austria by the late thirteen hundreds. The sculptures of the human forms became exaggerated, elongated, and idealized as they were graceful yet set in unnatural curves of S. As an artistic medium, wood became very famous and was oftentimes painted in lively colors. An incredible instance of Austrian Gothic Sculpture is the “Servant’s Madonna”. It was carved about 1320 which conveys an enthroned Mary, holding a standing child Christ. 

Cultural Anthropology throughout Renaissance to 18th century

The country was too preoccupied during the time of the Renaissance as it was fending off sieges, invasions, and plagues. That is why Austria was far behind in creating enthralling paintings and sculptures than in the other European countries where art blossomed at that time. As a consequence, Austria struggled to maintain balance with cities like Munich, Salzburg, and Innsbruck in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

The Apotheosis of Hercules
The Apotheosis of Hercules
Credit: Google Arts and Culture

During the baroque era, the only paintings that were spurted on great churches and palaces throughout Vienna. Austria imported artists from Italy and among them, the most famous one was Andrea Pozzo who crafted “The Apotheosis of Hercules.” This masterpiece displays on the ceilings of Liechtenstein Palace in Vienna. Baroque painting put emphasis on unity and symmetry while “trompe l’oeil” was utilized to give an extra dimension to the architectural and sculptural motifs of the buildings. 

Johann Rottmayr was the first notable baroque painter who was born in Austria. He was preferable to the most inspiring architects of that time who were Fischer von Erlach and von Hildebrandt. His masterpieces adorn the ceilings of Schonbrunn Palace and Peterskirche in Vienna. There are numerous artists in that era who have contributed to the baroque style of painting. Among them, Daniel Gran was the most noteworthy as he decorated the Hofbibliothek and he also has an altarpiece in the Kirlskirche. 

Bernardo Bellotto beautifully captured in his canvas, the transition of Vienna, emerging from the muddy fields to producing magnificent baroque architecture. He was also a pupil and nephew of the renowned painter of Vienna named Canaletto. At the request of Maria Theresa, Bernardo Bellotto was invited to Vienna, who pictured the city in the flat yet clear light of captivating details and precise accuracy. Today, his paintings are appreciated as historical, social alongside artistic documents. Another court painter of Maria Theresa, Martin van Meytens painted the luxurious balls and assemblies of the aristocracy of Vienna. Though his capturing are somewhat awkward, filled with details which became the best visual records of the reception and balls of the Austrian court. 

Maria Theresa
Maria Theresa
Credit: wikipedia

Sculptors like Georg Raphael Donor have also contributed to the Baroque style of sculpting. He is memorable for his majestic life-size sculpture of the Fountain of Providence which is made of bronze, situated in the Neuer Markt. Another sculptor was Balthasar Permoser who is best known for the equestrian statues of Prince Eugene of Savoy in Belvedere Palace’s courtyard. Balthasar Moll designed the famous dual sarcophagus in the Kapuzinerkirche in honor of Maria Theresa and her husband Francis Stephen. Franz Xaver Messerschmidt was another inspirational painter of that time who was trained in German but resident of Vienna and is popular for his portrait busts. His legacy lies in the evocative and accurate portraits of Maria Theresa and her son Joseph II and others.

Rebellion against the Official Art

In revolt from the “Official art”, emerged the Romantic Realist painters of Vienna who tended to draw on Austrian folklore and Biblical themes. On the walls of the State Opera in Vienna, they had lovingly painted the famous scenes from the opera. The Dutch masters from the seventeenth century impacted landscape painting.

A self-proclaimed advocate of realism and enemy of the “academic art”, Georg Waldmuller created “Wiener Zimmer” in 1837. The cultural anthropology of this painting dictates the most amazing pictorial depictions of the Biedermeier society in Vienna. Over one hundred and twenty paintings of Waldmuller are showcased at the Upper Belvedere museum.  

According to the cultural anthropology of Austrian art, another realist painter is Carl Moll who is well-known for the graceful and expressive portrayals of scenes from everyday life that are valued today extremely. Joseph Engelhart was responsible for the voluptuous capturing of the flirting of Belle Epoque with the gentlemen of Vienna. 

Cultural Anthropology of the Secessionist Movement

In 1897, several young decorators, painters, and architects from the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna, established the Secessionist Movement or Sezessionstil. The cultural anthropology depicts that the name itself captivated their retreat from the Vienna Artists’ Association or Kunstlerhaus that they thought mediocre, artificial, pompous, sanctimonious, and soiled in the historicism adored by Emperor Franz Joseph. Their artistic statement was reminiscent of the Jugendstil movement in Munich and Paris Art Nouveau movement. 

Cultural Anthropology in Adele Bloch-Bauer
Adele Bloch-Bauer by Gustav Klimt

According to the cultural anthropology of Austrian art, the headquarters of this movement was in Friedrichstrasse where an exhibition space was inaugurated for avant-garde artists in 1898. Among the group, the most well-known artist was Gustav Klimt for his rapidly developing personal and radically inventive paintings that relied on the sinuous curves of the Art Nouveau. His work involved a mammoth frieze 33m long and encrusted with gems and dedicated to Beethoven. It is one of the focal points of the Secessionist movement that was executed in 1902. Other major masterpieces include “Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer” which is an abstract description of an important socialite of Jewish Viennese descent in 1907. The gilded geometric form of the work reminds us of ancient Byzantine art.

Austrian Art in the Modern Times

The skilled disciple of Klimt was named Egon Schiele. During his short lifetime, he was virtually unknown and tormented but now he is one of the renowned artists whose work can stand beside the works of Modigliani and van Gogh. Schiele’s works seem to dissolve the confinement of the natural world and the human world, rendering a type of anthropomorphic humanity to landscape painting. Among his most tortured paintings is “The family” (1917) was authentically crafted for the decoration of a mausoleum. 

The Family by Egon Sciele
The Family by Egon Sciele
Credit: Wikipedia

The contemporary art of Vienna is inseparable from the international art that predominated in the twentieth century. A non-cubist style of sculpture was introduced by Fritz Wotruba. Most of the sculptural theories of Wotruba were created in the Wotruba Church, a Church of Holy trinity. The building is fully decorated with his architectural theories and his creations, the sculptures thus making the building a significant sightseeing and spiritual destination. Among the most vital painters of the modern period, Oskar Kokoschka is the most important artist. Kokoschka evocated the psychological chaos before and after the Second World War. Reminiscent of the artist Carl Moll, his portraits radiate violent emotion and psychological realism. 

Cultural Anthropology of other Austrian Art Mediums


The cultural anthropology of Austria states that the cultural life of Austria was dominated by the theatre. The Viennese playwrights of the nineteenth century Franz Grillparzer, Johann Nestroy, and Ferdinand Raimund had developed a play with distinctly Austrian characteristics. The writer Hugo von Hofmannsthal, the stage director Max Reinhardt and the composer Richard Strauss were instrumental in establishing the Salzburg festival in 1920.


In Austria, literature had prosperous beginnings. The anonymous Nibelungenlied is the great epic of the medieval period of German was actually written in Austria. The distinct literary mannerisms and style of Austria appeared in the late nineteenth century. Hermann Bahr was associated with the period of literary impressionism. The characteristics of the Austrian impressionism include feelings of tentativeness, and ambivalence, a heightened self-consciousness along with the forebodings of existing at the end of an overblown civilization.

Cultural Anthropology of Elfriede Jelinek
Elfriede Jelinek
Credit: wikipedia

According to the cultural anthropology of Austrian literary art, the dramas of Hugo von Hofmannsthal and Arthur Schnitzler are the epitome of Vienna at the turn of the twentieth century. In the review of “Die Fackel”, along with focussing on the language, the writer Karl Kraus contemplated an entire era of satire, social, political, criticism in his writings. Franz Kafka who came to Vienna from Prague conveyed an entirely different type of literary work where his haunting characters will confront unheeding power. “The Man Without Qualities,” by Robert Musil, though unfinished, it is believed to be the metaphor of Austria itself. In 2004, Elfriede Jelinek, the famous Austrian playwright, and novelist won the Nobel Prize for Literature.

For further information on the cultural anthropology of Austrian literature, please visit here.


Goldman & Salatsch Building design by Adolf Loos
Goldman & Salatsch Building design by Adolf Loos

Probably the most well-known architect of the twentieth century in Austria is named Clemens Holzmeister had a considerable effect on the contemporary church design and was memorable for two significant festival theatres in Salzburg. The designs of Roland Rainer, Adolf Loos, Carl Aubock, and Erich Boltenstern influenced office and housing development. The avant-garde architecture firm called Coop Himmelblau and architect Hans Hollien were renowned in the late twentieth and the early twenty-first centuries. 

Here we are at the end! I have merely given you the bird’s eye view on the cultural anthropology of Austrian Art. But, I hope to have inspired you enough so that you’ll seek more, Until then, travel well, be well.

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