The special world of Baroque theatres

Temporary Exhibition in the Vienna Theatermuseum

Among Vienna’s museums the Theatermuseum is not so well known. Standing in Lobkowitz Square, close to the Albertina, the museum opened in October 1991. Its special collection is housed in the former Lobkowitz Palace. To mark its 25th anniversary, last March saw the opening of Spettacolo barocco! Triumph des Theaters, a temporary exhibition about Baroque spectacles and the special world of Baroque theatre. Presenting such a theme in this manner had long been an aim of the museum in order to show the public part of its rich Baroque collection. Apart from its own objects, the display includes others from more than 15 institutes and individuals, including special items from Český Krumlov, Cologne, Munich and Salzburg. The Baroque era witnessed one of the most resplendent periods in theatre history. Ballet and opera enlivened the royal and princely courts, while the risqué presentations of itinerant comedy actors were popular among ordinary people. Opera became the queen of the Baroque age. Its heroes were generally figures from ancient mythology. Through these roles the performers were able to present their gratitude to their generous patron, the all powerful emperor, who was happy to see himself as a hero of mythology. Some of the popular spectacles were connected with celebrations of special events (e.g. weddings and births). They involved special lighting, fireworks and tournaments, in which many splendidly dressed people, adorned with shining decorations, paraded in groups for the noble lord. These, as the successors of medieval knights’ tournaments, were particularly popular. The exhibition chronologically covers the era from the time of Emperor Leopold I to the first decades of Maria Theresa’s reign. As the closing item of the display, there is the cityscape as seen from Lobkowitz Square by Bernardo Bellotto (Canaletto). The painting is one of 13 views of Vienna the artist painted in 1759-60, on commission from Maria Theresa. Canaletto depicted the confined square from the first floor of the Augustinian monastic house looking in a north-east direction. St. Stephen’s Church rises in the background. The building, designed by Giovanni Pietro Tencala for Master of the Horse Philipp Sigmund Dietrichstein, was constructed in 1685-87 and was the city’s first significant Baroque palace. In 1694 construction continued in line with plans by Johann Baptist Fischer von Erlach. After several changes of ownership, in 1745 the palace came into the possession of the Lobkowitz family, whose name it still bears today. The exhibition has been curated by Daniela Franke, Rudi Risatti, Andrea Sommer-Mathis and Alexandra Steiner-Strauss. The display is complemented by 18 scholarly studies and an inventory of art objects, a 340-page catalogue, numerous guided tours and several concerts. The interesting, beautifully staged exhibition can be viewed until to 30 January 2017.