In 1894, the artist friends Gustav Klimt and Franz Matsch were entrusted with the ceiling design of the Main Ceremonial Chamber. Franz Matsch was supposed to paint the large, central picture, the faculty painting for “Theology” and six personified sciences in the pendentive paintings in the arches of the dome. Gustav Klimt was commissioned to complete the three faculty paintings for “Philosophy”, “Medicine” and “Jurisprudence” as well as six pendentive paintings.
Klimt’s innovative representation sparked hefty debate among professors and in the public sphere. People were shocked by the unusual painting technique and the nude figures in the allegorical faculty paintings.
In 1904 Klimt had to hand over completion of his pendentive paintings to Matsch. The results were an almost photorealistic execution on a gold background. Klimt’s pieces were supposed to go to a museum, but the insulted artist kept the paintings and gave back his commission fee.
The Klimt affair led to the resignation of the Minister of Education, Wilhelm Hartel, who had taken the side of artistic freedom. The friendship between Klimt and Matsch crumbled. During the Second World War the “Faculty Paintings” were stored at Immendorf Castle at Hollabrunn. All works apart from Matsch’s “Theology” were destroyed in a fire.
Nevertheless, since 2005 the complete ceiling ensemble has been displayed together for the first time. The central picture “Triumph of Light” by Franz Matsch is framed by black-and-white reproductions of Gustav Klimt’s faculty paintings, recreated in 2005 in cooperation with the Leopold Museum. Even without colour, the difference in style between Matsch and Klimt is undeniable!