The Picture Gallery of the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna has its origins in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and by the end of the eighteenth century almost existed in its present form, with the important exception of Johannes Vermeer’s The Art of Painting which entered the collection after World War II.
Among the northern fragments of Emperor Rudolf’s gallery today in Vienna are the Bruegel collection, which had come from Rudolf’s brother Ernest, and works by Rudolf’s court artists in Prague such as Bartholomeus Spranger, Lucas van Valckenborch and Adriaen de Vries.
Decisive for the founding of the Vienna Picture Gallery was Archduke Leopold Wilhelm (1614-1662). As regent of the Netherlands (1647-1656) he was able to purchase masterpieces of Early Netherlandish and contemporary Flemish painting in the commercial centres of Antwerp and Brussels, including works by Jan van Eyck, Rubens, Jordaens and Van Dyck. In the early eighteenth century Charles VI brought together in Vienna the Habsburg dynasty’s paintings from the various residences, and his daughter Maria Theresia amassed a lot of Flemish baroque paintings after the suppression of the Jesuit order.
Gerlinde Gruber, Curator of Flemish Baroque Paintings & Sabine Pénot, Curator of Netherlandish and Dutch Paintings (June 2020)