A Look at the Albertina:
The Art of Collecting
Jakob Alt, The Palace Duke Albert Alongside the Augustiner Bastion, 1816.
For the art fan, the moment inevitably arises wherein a piece inspires the thought "I wish I could own that." Depending on the price point, though, that dream is not always realized. For the great families of past generations, however – those with endless wealth buying artists who were, at the time, not yet added to the art historical canon – art was amassed at record paces. While some of these noble houses accumulated paintings and sculptures, others focused their collecting on the art of drawing. Such is the case with Vienna's Albertina Graphic Art Collection, one of Austria's star museums. Boasting a collection of more than 60,000 drawings and thousands more prints, the Albertina is renowned still today as one of the finest collections of prints and drawings in the world.
Albrecht Dürer, Young Hare, 1502 – watercolor and body color – Albertina, Vienna.
The story of the collection began with Hapsburg Duke Albert of Saxe-Teschen (1738-1822), who started amassing art in the late 18th century. He was spurred on following a gift of hundreds of art pieces by Count Giacomo Durazzo, Genoese ambassador to Vienna, on the occasion of a visit of the Duke and his wife, Maria Christina, to Italy in 1776. The Duke's marriage to Maria Christina was an important one, as it made him an in-law of Empress Maria Teresa (1717-1720) and thus afforded him access to immense family status. In addition, it afforded the Duke substantial fortune to continue expanding his art collection. When he was gifted a magnificent palace in the center of Vienna from Emperor Franz II (1768-1836) in 1795, Albert thus took the opportunity to fill the walls with his graphic collection. He continued to build his holdings, as did his heirs. The result was the massive collection the museum now holds.
Leonardo da Vinci, Study for the Last Supper, circa 1495 – pen, ink and silverpoint – Albertina, ViennaA Viennese architectural landmark since the 18th century, the Albertina palace itself has expanded over time. Albert's heir, Archduke Albrecht, for example, added an elaborate fountain to the property's southeastern façade. It has also undergone significant hardships – it was only in the early 21st century, in fact, that the catastrophic bombing damage from World War II was finally repaired. In addition, the museum also now accommodates modern and contemporary art enthusiasts with new exhibition spaces for traveling shows and recently acquired several 20th-century collections on permanent loan. What has stayed the same, though, is the museum's permanent collection of prints and drawings, which has remained exceptional throughout. Have you visited the Albertina? What was your favorite piece? Have your own tips for collecting art?