The History of the Albertina


One of the world’s finest art collections has been housed since 1805 in the Albertina, a grand Viennese palace in the Neoclassical style. The palace takes its name from the collection’s founder, Duke Albert of Saxe-Teschen (1738-1822), a son-in-law of Austrian Empress Maria Theresa (1717-80). It was built in 1744 for Count Emanuel Teles Silva-Tarouca (1696-1771).

Jakob Alt, Das Palais Erzherzog Alberts mit der Augustinerbastei, 1816, Feder in Schwarz, aquarelliert © Albertina, Wien

Jakob Alt

The Palace of Duke Albert Alongside the Augustiner Bastion, 1816

 

In 1794, Duke Albert received the palace as a gift from Emperor Franz II (1768-1835), and in 1802 he contracted Belgian architect Louis de Montoyer (1747-1811) to add a wing of staterooms. In 1822, Duke Albert’s adopted son, Archduke Carl (1771-1847), employed Joseph Kornhäusel (1772-1860), a Viennese architect, to refurbish the apartments in Empire style.

 

Archduke Carl’s eldest son, Archduke Albrecht (1817-95), inherited the property in 1847. Towering 11 metres above street level, the palace gained a commanding position in the wake of the demolition in 1861 of this stretch of the old city walls. Over the course of the 1860s, Archduke Albrecht had the exterior remodelled in a historicist style. At the end of the decade, the Albrecht (or Danubius) Fountain was erected at the base of the bastion. The palace passed in 1895 to Archduke Albrecht’s nephew, Archduke Friedrich (1856-1936). Improvements carried out under his ownership included the installation of electricity and a hot-air heating system.

Albertina © Albertina, Vienna (Photo: Alexander Ch. Wulz)

Albertina

In 1919, the newly established Republic of Austria expropriated the Habsburg palace and the art collection it contained, now renamed the Albertina Graphic Art Collection. Severe bomb damage in 1945 destroyed many of the staterooms, the palace facades and the access ramp leading to the bastion.

The palace underwent complete renovation in 2000-2003. The facades were returned to their original appearance, the historical state apartments were fully restored, and the Danubius Fountain was reactivated. Four state-of-the-art exhibition rooms were created. Architect Hans Hollein canopied the entrance to the museum with a spectacular 64-metre titanium wing-shaped roof. Installed in 2004, the daring structure has become the hallmark of the new Albertina.