Collectors, Collections and Collecting Cultures in Vienna and Central Europe – Vienna Center for the History of Collecting

Vienna is one of Europe’s most important cities of art and culture.  Along with its imperial collections, from the seventeenth century to modern times the large aristocratic families but also the rising bourgeoisie built up extensive art collections, almost all of which are scattered today. Examples would be important aristocratic collections such as those of the Colloredo-Mansfelds, the Dauns, the Esterházys, the Harrachs, the Kinskys, the Liechtensteins or the Schönborns, but also large bourgeois collections such as those of the Birkenstocks, the Figdors, the Geigers, the Gsells or the Rothschilds. The research centre’s work seeks to systematically document collectors, collections and collecting cultures in Vienna and Central Europe and locate them in the broader art- and cultural-historical context.

Sources include several collection inventories and catalogues of sale, but also correspondence and travel writing. On this basis, lost collections can be reconstructed and many of the artworks presently scattered around the world can be identified. The new research centre aims to build on the pioneering work of Theodor Frimmel by documenting collections in Vienna and Central Europe and analysing them in terms of their far-reaching significance. The spectrum of items collected ranges from antiquity to modernity, from paintings to sculptures, from drawings to coins and ornate furniture. All the important European schools are represented, but so too are East Asian and African artworks. The guiding research questions concern the storing and presentation of the items in the various collection rooms, the motivations, the politics of acquisition, the acquisition strategies and the role of the actors involved, including not only the collectors themselves, but also the artists, art dealers and art historians. The focus is not only on artistic and aesthetic questions, but also on economic and sociohistorical aspects.

The Vienna Center for the History of Collecting is a cooperation project between the Department of Art History at the University of Vienna and two institutes of the Austrian Academy of Sciences: the Austrian Centre for Digital Humanities (ACDH) and the Institute for Habsburg and Balkan Studies (IHB). The IHB participates in the cooperation project via its research focus on “Habsburg Representation in Visual Art, Architecture and Music”. The systematic study of the Habsburgs’ strategies of representation considers the actors, artworks and collections directly forming the corpus for the project “Collectors, Collections and Collecting Cultures in Vienna and Central Europe”.