Wednesday, May 26, 2010

My Favorite: Vienna's Natural History Museum

Until recently, my all-time favorite museum was Amsterdam’s van Gogh. I will never forget the first time I walked into that museum thirty years ago and there were a dozen or more of his landscapes in one gallery. As I stood in the middle of the room I experienced one of the most colorful, energizing and inspiring moments of my life. I left filled with happiness and appreciation. On my most recent return visit (three years ago) the museum was modernized and the colorful landscapes I loved and longed to see again were no longer in the same room. The magic of their juxtaposition was gone. I will feel forever fortunate that I was once able to see so many of his very colorful landscapes together in one room.

Today my favorite museum is undoubtedly Austria’s Natural History Museum in Vienna. It’s not the building although it is a grand palace. There are museums in fabulous buildings all over the world. It's not even the contents. Many natural history museums have outstanding collections of rocks and animals. The aspect I really love is it feels like it’s a museum of a museum. It’s the only place I’ve been where, upon entering the first collection, I feel like I’ve been invited to view the collections of the greatest scientists of the 1700s. It has a very authentic ambiance about it.

First, some of the grand aspects:

The labels for the rocks, minerals and gemstones are typewritten on aged paper and the collections are displayed in antique or reproduction Baroque cases. I hope the museum staff never succumbs to peer or interior designer pressure to modernize too much.

Old microscopes are displayed in curved glass cases.

And the antique drawings make fabulous wall displays. I would love to have wallpaper or a scarf or a notecard or a poster or countertop of their series of corals, shells or microorganisms:

Like most natural history museums, they have an extensive collection of animals.

An Irish Elk skeleton is silhouetted against a window:

This large crystal is facet-nating:

Among the museum's treasures is the gemstone bouquet Empress Maria Theresia gave to her husband, Franz Stephan, a dedicated amateur scientist, at their engagement. In 1748, Franz I and Maria Theresia imported the initial collections for the museum from Florence, giving Vienna at that time the largest systematic collection in the world. Still impressive, the collection is displayed much as it might have been in the 1700s. I love it!

1 comment:

  1. I have heard so many times about this Natural History Museum, But I haven't seen, After reading your post I really would like to visit this beautiful Natural History Museum.
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