Art and War and Atonement

By Jheri St. James

“The Kiss” by Gustav Klimt

Word choices are important and acquire historical importance.If Klimt’s painting above was titled “the Handshake”, for instance, there would be head-shaking, because the handshake omits the passion, the intensity of the artist’s moment.But in the following four reference paragraphs, never once are the words “war,” “death”, “killing”, “massacre”, “genocide” or even “soldiers” used.The mild terminology used to describe the history of Austria—like most of the countries in our Common Ground 191 online journal—is, however, replete with those activities, results, and people.History teachers often say that, “history is written by the victors”, and in this case, the victorious writers have used words like “settled”, “acquired”, “annexation”, “weakened” and “grew”—a point worth contemplating in the context of Common Ground 191—a project emerging out of the definitions and dualities of art and war.

Inhabited from prehistoric times, settled by the Celts, and subsequently part of the Roman Empire, starting in the third century A.D. Austria was devastated by invading Vandals, Goths, Alemanni, Huns, and Avars.In 788 Charlemagne conquered Austria.The Babenberg family inherited it in 976 and retained it as duchy until 1246.In 1247 the Habsburgs acquired Austria, which became a central part of their empire until 1918.The Treaty of Versailles created independent states (Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Yugoslavia) from the old empire, while Austria itself became a republic. In 1938,Austriawas annexed by Hitler’s Third Reich, regaining independence following the Allied victory in 1945” (Webster’s International Encyclopedia.

Carved Wooden Tombstone

Once the center of power for the large Austro-Hungarian Empire, Austria was reduced to a small republic after its defeat in World War I.  Austria’s status remained unclear for a decade from 1945 until a State Treaty signed in 1955 ended the Nazi occupation, recognized Austria’s independence, and forbade unification with Germany.  A constitutional law that same year declared the country’s “perpetual neutrality” as a condition for Soviet military withdrawal.  Following the Soviet Union’s collapse in 1991 and Austria’s entry into the European Union in 1995, some Austrians have called into question this neutrality.  A prosperous, democratic country, Austria entered the Economic and Monetary Union in 1999 (CIA World Factbook).

St. Stephen’s Cathedral Roof, Vienna

Holy Roman Empire – European empire centered in Germany that endured from medieval times until 1806.It was effectively established in A.D. 962 when the pope crowned Otto I, king of Germany, emperor of Rome.It derived its political claim to the Roman Empire based on Charlemagne’s belief that his empire was the legitimate successor to ancient Rome.In theory, the Holy Roman emperor was God’s temporal ruler of all Christians. In reality, the political control was somewhat different.At its height, it included all the German principalities, Austria, Bohemia, Moravia, Switzerland, the Low Countries, eastern France, and northern and central Italy. Until 1562, the emperor was crowned by the pope; thereafter the coronation was performed in Frankfurt.The Holy Roman Empire was in constant conflict with the pope and the Italian states over temporal and religious issues.It was seriously weakened by the Reformation, which challenged the allegiance of German Protestant princes to the emperor. The Thirty Years War (1618-1648) almost totally destroyed the German people and the Holy Roman Empire. In fact, it never recovered from this conflict. France emerged as a central power from the war and its continued military successes, from the time of Louis XIV to Napoleon I, eradicated the political reality of the Holy Roman emperor. The official end came in 1806 when Francis II renounced the title, proclaiming himself Francis I, emperor of Austria. (Webster’s International Encyclopedia)

Capuchin Crypt in Vienna, Burial Site of 138 Members of House of Habsburg

House of Habsburg – European family from which came rulers of Austria (1282-1918), the Holy Roman Empire (1438-1806), Spain (1516-1700), Germany, Hungary, Bohemia, and other countries.  Count Rudolf IV, who was crowned King Rudolf I of Germany in 1273, founded the imperial line.  Thereafter Habsburg (also spelled Hapsburg) power and hereditary lands grew until, under Charles V, they included most of Europe (excepting France, Scandinavia, Portugal, and England).  After Charles, the Habsburgs were divided into Spanish and imperial lines.  When the Spanish line died out, Charles V‘s granddaughter, Maria Theresa, gained the Austrian title.  Her husband, Francis I (Duke of Lorraine), became Holy Roman Emperor (1745), and the Habsburg-Lorraine line ruled the Holy Roman Empire until its demise.  The last Habsburg ruler, Charles I, emperor of Austria and king of Hungary, abdicated in 1918, after World War I. (Webster’s International Encyclopedia)

Tree Carving in Austria

Art and war—paintings, wood carving, architecture, sculpture all used in the previous photos to express man’s deep grief and losses of life in this most miserable of all human activities.  Austria has not been exempt from this sturm and drang known to all mankind; Austria has been the stage upon which many momentous historical events have been played out.  Located in Central Europe, north of Italy and Slovenia and bordered by Czech Republic, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Liechtenstein, Slovakia, Slovenia and Switzerland, this is a coveted medium-sized country that would add good real estate to any of its neighbors’ territories.  Mountainous in the west and south, along the eastern and northern margins Austria is mostly flat or gently sloping.  Landlocked, it is a strategic location at the crossroads of central Europe with many easily traversable Alpine passes and valleys.  The major river is the beautiful blue Danube.  The population is concentrated on the eastern lowlands because of steep slopes, poor soil and low temperatures elsewhere.  Vienna is Austria’s capital city.

With its well-developed market economy and high standard of living, Austria is closely tied to other EU economies, especially Germany’s.  The economy features up-to-date industrial and agricultural sectors.  Timber is a key industry, 47% of the land area being forested.  Membership in the EU has drawn an influx of foreign investors attracted by Austria’s access to the single European market and proximity to the new EU economies.  Slow growth in Europe has held the economy to 0.7%% growth in 20012, 1.4% in 2002, 0.8% in 2003, and 1.9% in 2004 and 2005.  To meet increased competition from both EU and Central European countries, particularly the new EU members, Austria will need to emphasize knowledge-based sectors of the economy, continue to deregulate the service sector, and encourage much greater participation in the labor market by its aging population.  The aging phenomenon, together with already high health and pension costs, poses fundamental problems in tax and welfare policies.  Some important locations in Austria include:

Krimml Falls

The Krimmler Ache, flows through a narrow wooded valley, plunging down 380m/1,250ft in three tremendous cascades. To the south of the Gerlos pass, which links the Ziller valley in Tirol with the Salzach valley in Salzburg, the excursion to see these falls, the grandest in the Eastern Alps, takes three hours. The nearby village of Krimml is a popular holiday resort, and in winter the Gerlosplatte offers excellent skiing.







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Mural Art in Graz

The old capital of Styria and Austria's second largest town, Graz is the economic and commercial focus of the whole region. It lies on the River Mur, which here emerges from a narrow defile to enter the fertile basin known as the Grazer Feld. Above the town is a prominent hill, the Schlossberg. Graz, the seat of the provincial government and a major industrial town, has a University, a Technical College, various institutes and an Academy of Music and Dramatic Art. Its tourist attractions include many historic old buildings; these and the old town with numerous Baroque facades are of great interest. Excavation has shown that there were settlements here as early as 800 A.D., but the town is first mentioned in the records in 1128. The name comes from the Slavonic "gradec" (small castle). Graz was of some consequence in trading under the Traungau family and later under the Babenbergs. In 1233 it passed into the hands of the Habsburgs, and in 1281 King Rudolf I granted the town special privileges. From 1379-1619 Graz was the residence of the Leopoldine branch of the Habsburgs. As a stronghold of the Habsburg Empire against attack from the East, the town was strongly fortified in the 15th-17th centuries and several times withstood sieges by the Turks. The architecture of the town was influenced by Italian models; among the fine buildings erected during this period was the sumptuous palace of Prince Hans Ulrich von Eggenberg. In the 19th century Graz became an important cultural magnet. The Habsburg period came to an end in 1918. In 1938 the city reached its present extent with the incorporation of a number of adjoining communes. It suffered considerable damage during the Second World War but this was subsequently repaired.


The Art of the Mural in Graz

West of Linz, on the southern bank of the Danube, stands the little town of Wilhering. The Cistercian abbey here was founded in 1146 and rebuilt in the 18th C. after a fire. The art gallery contains sketches and drawings by Austrian Baroque painters. The church, bathed in light, has a Roccoco interior which is one of the finest examples of this style in Austria. There are attractive frescos by B. Altomonte (including the Glorification of the Mother of God) and fine choir stalls and wall graves.

The 20 meter Baroque Pillar of the Holy Trinity was completed in 1723. The column was made by Sebastian Stumpfegger, based on a model by Antonio Beducci. The marble structure is topped with a gold-colored sculpture of the Holy Trinity. There are also three inscriptions from the provincial estates, the city council and the residents of Linz, in appreciation of their escape from war, fire and the plague.

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Salzburg's St Peter's Church was built in 1130-43, altered in 1605-25 and decorated in Roccoco style between 1757 and 1783. The helm tower also dates from the latter period. Inside the porch under the tower is the Romanesque west doorway (c.
1240), with sculpture in the tympanum; the Roccoco door dates from 1765. The interior, in which the plan of the Romanesque basilica can still be detected, contains many monuments of great interest. In the third chapel behind the altar is the rock-hewn tomb of St Rupert, with an epitaph of 1444, and in the fourth chapel will be found the monuments of Mozart's sister Marianne ("Nannerl"), who died in 1829 as Baroness Berchtold zu Sonnenburg, and of J. M. Haydn, the brother of Joseph. By the choir screen stand two bronze candelabra of 1609. All but two of the altarpieces on the 16 marble altars were painted by Martin Johann Schmidt of Krems, known as "Kremser Schmidt" (1718-1801). The Lady Chapel (Marienkapelle; not open to the public) of 1319 on the northern side of the church contains a stone figure of the Virgin dating from the same period as the chapel, Early Gothic frescos and later frescos of 1755.

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All these expressions of the heavenly realm point to our soil collector in Austria, who was Taya Albolena Lila of Ljubljana, Slovenia, who contacted an Austrian friend, Suzana, who brought some anonymous Austrian soil to her for shipment to Common Ground 191. Ms. Lila, a Doreen Virtue Angel Therapy student, has so far contributed soil of three countries to our project, and we are so appreciative of this clearly angelic intervention. Thank you, Doreen and Taya.

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In 2006, the year of this writing, Austria celebrates the 250th birthday of its most famous classical musical composer, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791) who said, “When I am . . . traveling in a carriage, or walking after a good meal, or during the night when I cannot sleep; it is on such occasions that ideas flow best and most abundantly.” Born in Salzburg, Mozart is considered one of the greatest musical geniuses of all time, authoring over 600 works before his premature death at 35.

The son of orchestra leader Leopold Mozart, Wolfgang showed remarkable musical aptitude early in life. He was playing the harpsichord by the age of four, composing at five, and performed his first recital at age 6 for the Empress of Austria. Recognizing his enormous talent, his father devoted most of his time to his son's musical education, and taking him on concert tours throughout Europe.

Mozart left Salzburg in 1781 to seek his fortune in Vienna. He married there in 1782. Mozart made his living performing and selling his compositions and giving music lessons. No longer a child prodigy, he had difficulty earning sufficient income to support a family. He died in poverty in 1791. Mozart excelled at nearly every kind of musical composition. He wrote 22 operas, over 40 symphonies, and composed a great amount of church and chamber music. Much of Mozart's work is still performed and enjoyed today.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Salzburg, the city of his birth, is hoping to cash in on Mozart’s birthday with a mixture of kitsch and high culture. A local dairy has developed a new Mozart yogurt, and one can buy Mozart sausage, Mozart baby bottles and Mozart perfume. Kurt Palm, author of a new book about Mozart said, “If Mozart could see what happens now only in Austria, in Vienna or Salzburg this year, he would either laugh about it or he would be disgusted.” This summer there will be a chance to see every opera that Mozart wrote, all 22, rather than the five or six normally staged.

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Another revered artist from Austria was Gustav Klimt, born July 14, 1682, in Baumgarten, near Vienna, the second of 11 children. He was educated at the Vienna School of Arts and Crafts and received training as an architectural decorator. He began his professional career painting interior murals in large public buildings. His work is distinguished by an elegant use of gold backgrounds and mosaic patterns. Art historians note an eclectic range of influences contributing to Klimt’s distinct style, including Egyptian, Minoan, Classical Greek, and Byzantine inspirations. His works are also characterized by a rejection of earlier naturalistic styles and the use of symbols or symbolic elements to convey psychological ideas and emphasize the freedom of art from traditional culture. He died in Vienna on February 6, 1918 of a stroke.

Current events in Austria include a U.S. woman who recently won a legal battle for five Klimt paintings that the Nazis stole from her family valued at 150 million dollars. Maria Altmann, the heir of the family who owned them before the Nazis “annexed” Austria in 1938, said, “Frankly, I had a very good feeling the last few days. I had a very positive feeling thinking things will go all right,” said Altmann. “I’m thrilled that it came to this end.” Though the court’s ruling is nonbonding, both parties have previously said they will abide by it, and Austria’s government is expected to give up the works of art that have been displayed for decades in Vienna’s ornate Belvedere castle.

That will represent the costliest concession since Austria began returning valuable art objects looted by the Nazis. The case stemmed from a 1998 Austrian law that required federal museums to review their holdings for any works seized by the Nazis and determine whether they were obtained without remuneration. Lawyers for the two sides have fought since 1998 over rights to the famed portrait of “Adele Bloch-Bauer I”; a lesser-known Bloch-Bauer portrait; “Apple Tree”; “Beech Forest/Birch Forest”; and “Houses in Unterach on Attersee Lake”. After Bloch-Bauer died, the five pictures remained in her family’s possession. Her husband fled to Switzerland after the Nazis took over Audstria. The pictures were taken by the Nazis and the Austrian Gallery was made the former owner.

A fairly recent development in the history of mankind’s warring activities is this kind of atonement – at-one-ment – for past sins (errors). The Common Ground 191 project is an act of at-one-ment, bringing the soils of the world together in one place, on one 50’ x 50’ fresco, as a symbolic, wordless, global unity. The importance of acts of reparation like the return of the Klimt paintings cannot be taken too far in symbolic importance—Roget’s Thesaurus even refers to “Christly functions” as one of the synonyms of the word “atonement”, resulting in salvation and redemption. With its long history of culture, music, painting, and spectacular Baroque and Rococo church interiors, Austria obviously has evolved a high level of refined spiritual and artistic sensibility, and is now willing to act upon that on a global level. The soil of Austria is an important evolutionary addition to the Common Ground 191 unification project. The word for peace in Austria is derfriede.

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