Naturhistorisches Museum, Wien
Naturhistorisches Museum, Wien, 2017
Archival pigment print
Ruane Center for the Humanities, Ground Floor
About the Work
The grand building that houses the Natural History Museum in Vienna epitomizes the historicism tradition: a style of architecture popular in nineteenth-century Vienna. Through an opening in the intricately decorated ceiling visitors can look up more than one hundred feet into a dome, a feat of engineering in the 1800s. Around the opening of the dome (only partially visible in this artwork) there are portraits of natural scientists and collectors from throughout the early modern era. There are also precious stones and other valuable materials adorning the dome’s intricately detailed decorative trim work. Below the dome, the imperial dedication in golden letters reads: To the realm of nature and its exploration.
Like many museums, the Natural History Museum in Vienna was originally built for two reasons: to display the figures, collections, and exploits of a wealthy and powerful empire, and to give the local public access to information. With this in mind, Theresa Ganz’s reconstruction of the museum’s interior dome and its ornamental features highlights one example of how societies use visual culture and hierarchical structures to tell stories through ideological lenses.