A Roman in Vienna
Posted on August 7, 2012
Vienna . . . personally, I didn’t like the Austrian capital when I visited in the spring of 2010 and I usually fall in love with everywhere I travel. It was too perfect with its oversized baroque buildings and wide boulevards celebrating a vanished empire that never really accomplished much.
One has to wonder really about the size issue in Vienna — even the statues of Archduke Charles, the Duke of Teschen, in Heldenplatz and Empress Marie-Theresa in her namesake square near the city’s Museum Quarter are gigantic. Bigger than most statues of important persons in other, more impressive European cities.
Now granted, the archduke was considered a great general and a thorn in Napoleon’s side and the empress is one of the few female rulers from the 1700s. But her statue in particular is not flattering. The 19-metre-high artwork, topped with a six-metre high bronze of the empress, weighs an estimated 44 tonnes and makes her ass look huge! But I digress.
One building that thumbed its nose at the rest of Vienna when it was built in 1898 was the Secession Building, located on Friedrichstrasse. Known as the Temple for Bullfrogs by haughty Viennese at the time, it was a place for the city’s up-and-coming modern art painters, sculptors and architects to shine, including Gustav Klimt (whose Beethoven Frieze is the museum’s biggest draw), Joseph Maria Olbrich (who designed the building), Max Kurzweil, Otto Wagner, and Koloman Moser.
Located outside the Vienna Secession building, is a bronze statue by artist Arthur Strasser called Marc Anton Gruppe. Designed for the Paris World Exposition in 1900, the sculptor portrays Marc Anthony, the heroic supporter of Julius Caesar and doomed lover of Cleopatra, as a slothful general pulled by lions in a Roman chariot as the historian Plutarch had famously described him.
Experts have suggested the statue is a commentary on the excesses and conservatism of Viennese society at the close of the 19th century. One thing is for certain, the statue and the Secession building are a cheeky way of cleansing the palate after viewing the city’s overwrought architectural confections.
Touring Vienna is sort of like eating an entire meal of linzertortes and strudels at Demel, the city’s famous pastry shop. Delicious but nutritionally empty.
Strasser’s creation also reminds viewers of Vienna’s Roman past, which can still be glimpsed in the ruins found in Michaelerplatz. Unfortunately, most people take little heed of the archaeological site and focus on the impressive and ornate buildings that ring the square, including the entrance to the Hofburg.∗
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