Stairwell in the Kunsthistoriches Museum, Vienna, Austria
Emperor Franz Joseph I commissioned the design and construction of the Kunsthistorisches Museum (Art History Museum) in Vienna to house the imperial family’s vast collection of art and to make it accessible to the public. The museum opened in 1891. Less than 30 years later, the Austro-Hungarian Empire ceased to exist.
Listen. Can you hear their voices
from the past as they slowly ascend
these stairs, hands gracing the balustrade,
gazing in awe at the grandeur,
marble on marble, gold leaf and inlays,
a building as immense and eternal
as the Empire itself, a fitting frame
for the Emperor’s art, offered now to the people.
Look. These stairs that have borne millions,
the collection of peoples
on which the empire once hung—
these stairs, this building,
relics of an era that was in descent
even as they were new.