Idols & Rivals

Artists in Competition
20 September 2022
to 8 January 2023

Nowadays, competition is mainly associated with sport, the economy, evolution theory, architecture, or various types of TV contest. Ever since the days of ancient Greece, however, competition has also played an important role in the world of art.

Our exhibition shows how in antiquity, the Renaissance, and the Baroque, artists competed with one another and how, in addition, they measured themselves against ancient models. This kind of competition has brought forth some of the best-known works in the history of art.

Even in antiquity, competitions were a widespread factor in society, influencing all areas of life from sport through to art.

Renaissance and Baroque artists drew on this culture of competition. Vying with others for important commissions motivated them to outstanding achievements, which is why some Humanists saw such rivalry as a driver of cultural progress. With the turn of the eighteenth century, the idea of competition became institutionalized. Art academies mounted major competitions, which began to attract the interest of a broad public.

Tleson, little-master cup, c.540 BCE, clay, H 13.6 cm, dia. 19.8 cm. Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Collection of Classical Antiquities © bpk / Antikensammlung, SMB / Christa Begall

Tleson, little-master cup, c.540 BCE, clay, H 13.6 cm, dia. 19.8 cm. Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Collection of Classical Antiquities © bpk / Antikensammlung, SMB / Christa Begall

The finely painted image shows Eris, the goddess of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ competition alike. She has an enchanting face but a wicked character.

Every Competition Needs a Jury

Artworks on public display have always faced judgement by their viewers.

You, too, can become a jury member and join the judging, centuries after the contest in question.

Who are the best artists, which is the best artwork? We put several pairs or groups of works up for a vote. At the bottom of the website, you will find out the current status of the voting. 

Let your personal taste be your guide. Your opinion counts!

Competition in Antiquity

The Amazons

Phidias vs. Kresilas vs. Polykleitos

Around 430 BCE, a number of Greek sculptors made statues of a wounded Amazon for the largest temple in the ancient world, the Artemision in Ephesus. The jury was composed of the artists themselves – with the result that they all awarded themselves first place. Which of these opponents gets your vote? 

Roman copy after original by Phidias, marble, H. 211 cm. Vatican, Musei Vaticani, Museo Pio Clementino © bpk | Scala

Roman copy after original by Kresilas, marble, H 185 cm. Ecija, Museo Historico Municipal de Ecija © J. Tracking colour-Modified Museo Histórico Municipal de Écija

Roman copy after original by Polykleitos, marble, H 202 cm. Rome, Musei Capitolini © akg-images / Nimatallah

A sideswipe at a colleague

Euthymides vs. Euphronios

Two rival vase painters in Athens around 500 BCE

This vase was proudly signed on the front by Euthymides, one of the finest vase-painters of the years before 500 BCE. On the backside, however, he wrote ‘as Euphronios never [would have been able to paint it]’. He thus claimed that his work was better than those of his colleague, who clearly led the field in the Athens of his day. In their sculptural quality, Euthymides’ figures indeed surpassed those of his rival.

Competition in the Renaissance

Dawn of a new age

Brunelleschi vs. Ghiberti

In 1400, a competition was announced for a bronze double door at the Baptistery in Florence. While such contests were no rarity, this one is considered a classic of its kind. A jury of 34 declared the winner to be Lorenzo Ghiberti, whose composition was regarded as better balanced, not to mention its using around seven kilograms less of the valuable material. Hardly any history of Renaissance art fails to mention this event as a founding moment.

Battle of the giants

Leonardo vs. Michelangelo

Competition mounted by the Florentine Republic for the decoration of the Palazzo Vecchio, 1503/04

The Republic of Florence commissioned Leonardo and Michelangelo to each paint a depiction of a famous battle for the grand council chamber of the Palazzo Vecchio. However, neither wall painting was ever completed. Which of the surviving copies implies the more accomplished original? 

Peter Paul Rubens after Leonardo da Vinci, Fight for the Standard, c.1605, canvas, 82.5 × 117 cm. Vienna, Akademie der bildenden Künste © Gemäldegalerie der Akademie der bildenden Künste Wien / Academy of Fine Arts Vienna, Paintings Gallery

Bastiano da Sangallo, known as Aristotile, after Michelangelo Buonarroti, The Battle of Cascina, c.1542, wood panel, 77 × 130 cm. The Earl of Leicester and the Trustees of the Holkham Estate, By kind permission of the Earl of Leicester and the Trustees of the Holkham Estate / Bridgeman Images

Florence: contest on the piazza

Even today, this figure transforms the Piazza della Signoria into a competitive arena. Cast with accomplished skill, it was unveiled in Florence in 1554 in immediate proximity to major works by Donatello and Michelangelo. In his autobiography, its creator the goldsmith and sculptor Benvenuto Cellini wrote of his plan to use this sculpture ‘to kill all my enemies’. He was thinking in particular of his arch-rival Bandinelli, who was represented on the square with a Hercules group.

Paragone

Which art is better?

Painting or sculpture?

In 1547, the humanist Benedetto Varchi launched a survey on which art was the better. Eight artists wrote letters in response. The sculptors’ principal argument was that their works could be viewed from all sides. But Lorenzo Lotto had already shown that painters, too, could portray their subject from more than one angle. Later, Marten Jozef Geeraerts was to prove, as many had done before him, that painting could imitate sculpture better than sculpture could painting.

Professional envy

Deadly competition, destructive jealousy

Giorgio Vasari, Portrait of Andrea del Castagno, 1568, woodcut, in Le vite de‘ piv eccellenti pittori, scvltori, e architettori … (Florence, 1568), ii, 394. Vienna, Austrian National Library © Wien, Österreichische Nationalbibliothek, BE.11.Q.42, S. 394

Giorgio Vasari, Portrait of Andrea del Castagno, 1568, woodcut, in Le vite de‘ piv eccellenti pittori, scvltori, e architettori … (Florence, 1568), ii, 394. Vienna, Austrian National Library © Wien, Österreichische Nationalbibliothek, BE.11.Q.42, S. 394

This woodcut by Vasari, which served him as illustration of his Vite, shows the painter Castagno with a glowering face and wild look. 

Andrea del Castagno’s murder of Domenico Veneziano

While artistic competition could stimulate and inspire, it could also fuel envy and malice. There are records of attempted espionage and even murder. Giorgio Vasari, for example, reports how out of envy Andrea del Castagno cunningly gained the confidence of his rival and then lured him into a hidden place and killed him. We now know that the biographer was wrongly informed. However, his narrative was passed down through the ages and del Castagno went down in history as a murderer. 

But it Can Be Done Differently:
Esteem 

Esteem and recognition

Sofonisba Anguissola and Lavinia Fontana

In 1578, Lavinia Fontana was asked for a small self-portrait, to be reproduced as a print and published alongside a self-portrait by Sofonisba Anguissola. The young Lavinia expressed her high regard for Sofonisba’s works by reflecting them in her own creations. In a letter, she humbly wrote that when placed alongside her own works, Sofonisba’s art ‘could display its brilliance to all the greater effect’.

Surpassing a Model:
aemulatio and superatio

Dizzy flights

Michelangelo vs. Rubens

The artist biographer Giorgio Vasari urged later generations to ‘imitate Michelangelo in all respects’. Rubens was one of several painters who rose to this challenge. An invention of Michelangelo’s prompted him to produce more than just an imitatio: aiming rather at aemulatio (competitive imitation) and superatio (surpassing), he created a powerful new work that is rich in allusions.

Teacher and pupil

Rubens vs. van Dyck

Even as a young student, van Dyck was able to imitate the painting style of his teacher Rubens perfectly. Later, however, he went his own way and began to make his brushwork looser and freer. Which style of painting is more convincing? The teacher’s or the pupil’s?

Peter Paul Rubens and Anthonis van Dyck, St Ambrosius and Emperor Theodosius, c.1617, canvas, 308 × 248.5 cm. Kunsthistorisches Museum Vienna, Picture Gallery

Anthonis van Dyck, St Ambrosius and Emperor Theodosius, 1618/19, canvas, 149 × 113.2 cm. London, National Gallery © The National Gallery, London

Rivalry Unto Death

Painter as wolf to painter

Paudiss vs. Rösel von Rosenhof

This contest from the year 1666 subsequently acquired a tragic aftertaste. Joachim von Sandrart tells us that one of the competing artists, Christopher Paudiss, died only a few days later. Paudiss’s opponent was the now largely unknown animal painter Franz Rösel von Rosenhof. Did he manage to defy the odds?

Franz Rösel von Rosenhof, Wolf, Fox, and Sheep, 1666, canvas, 122 × 187 cm. Munich, Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen - Alte Pinakothek München, CC BY-SA 4.0

Christopher Paudiss, Wolf, Fox, and Sheep, 1666, canvas, 123 × 183.5 cm. Munich, Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen - Alte Pinakothek München, CC BY-SA 4.0

But it Can Be Done Differently:
Collaborations 

Collaboration

between painters

For his Head of Medusa, Peter Paul Rubens decided to collaborate with an animal painter, Frans Synders, who contributd with the snakes. But Rubens was also competing with Leonardo and Caravaggio, who had painted famous depictions of the same subject before.

Collaboration

between a goldsmith and a gemstone-cutter

The goldsmith Jan Vermeyen and the gemstone-cutter Ottavio Miseroni collaborated on a precious covered tazza:

a masterpiece combining two branches of the decorative arts.

Academies and Salons

From competition to exhibition

In the seventeenth century, competitions organized by academies became a Europe-wide phenomenon, starting in Rome and Paris, later followed by Vienna. The subjects were prescribed and the winners awarded valuable prizes that also earned them fame. At the public exhibitions, also known as salons, works were shown in densely hung arrangements – a playing field for art critics and, at the same time, a lively social event.

Vying for public attention

Vernet vs. Loutherbourg

The Paris salon of 1771 exhibited so many works that the artists had to have a strategy for capturing the public’s attention – such as depicting a sinking ship or a famous person. Which of the two paintings stands out the most?

Claude-Joseph Vernet, Shipwreck in a Thunderstorm, 1770, canvas, 114.5 × 163 cm. Munich, Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen - Alte Pinakothek München, CC BY-SA 4.0

Philipp Jakob de Loutherbourg and Pierre-Antoine de Machy, Sea Storm before a Harbour, 1771, canvas, 98 × 130 cm. Kunsthistorisches Museum Vienna, Picture Gallery

The royal academy’s grand prix

Suvée vs. David

In 1771, the French Académie royale mounted a competition – which subsequently enabled the winner to study in Rome for several years.  David, then only 23 years old, had hoped to win the prize but lost out to the older painter Suvée. Rightly so?

Joseph-Benoît Suvée, The Combat of Mars and Minerva, 1771, canvas, 143 × 109.5 cm. Lille, Palais des Beaux-Arts © bpk / RMN - Grand Palais / Philipp Bernard

Jacques-Louis David, The Combat of Mars and Minerva, 1771, canvas, 114 × 146.8 cm. Paris, Musée du Louvre, Département des Peintures © bpk / RMN - Grand Palais / Philippe Fuzeau

Voting Methods, Too, Have a Long History

In ancient Greece, the cradle of democracy, votes were cast with shards of pottery or pebbles.

This bowl shows men putting down stones to decide who the weapons of the fallen hero Achilles are to go to – Ajax or Odysseus? 

Even as late as the eighteenth century, beans were used to vote. At the Paris Academy, for example, white and black beans were used to make decisions of all kinds – from the awarding of prizes to academy admissions.

‘An exhibited picture is like a book that has been published – everyone has the right to pass judgement upon it.’

La Font De Saint-Yenne, 1747

You have voted!

Results of the audience's voting

Michelangelo, Lavinia Fontana, and Anthonis van Dyck combat Titian, Sofonisba Anguissola, Peter Paul Rubens, and many others. The exhibition concept seeks, among other things, to trace numerous artistic confrontations from antiquity until around 1800 and to put the rival works of the past on display for present-day viewers to compare.

In this exhibition, some sixty loans from international collections are pitted against just as many major works from Kunsthistorisches Museum Vienna.

Gold Wreath from an Athlete’s Grave

Ancient Anthedon, Regional Unity of Euboea; 2nd half of the 2nd cent. BCE–early 1st cent. BCE

Wounded Amazon (Mattei Type)

Roman copy from the 2nd half of the 2nd cent. CE after an original by Phidias 440/430 BCE

Euthymides
Attic Red-Figure Amphora: Euthymides and Euphronius, Two Rival Colleagues in Kerameikos in Ancient Athens

510/500 BCE

Jan van der Hamen y León
Still Life with Fruit and Birds

1621

Jan van Rossum
Flower Still Life with Curtain

1671

Cornelis Bisschop
Self-Portrait

1668

Suessula-Maler
Column Krater: Apollo and Marsyas

c.400 BCE

Bartholomäus Spranger
Apollo and the Muses (Fragment of a Judgement of Midas)

after 1590

Hendrick de Clerck
The Judgement of Midas

1610/15

Luca Giordano (1634–1705)
Apollo Flaying Marsyas

c.1695

Aphrodite Anadyomene

Roman copy from the 2nd half of the 2nd cent. CE after a statuette from the 1st cent. BCE

Antonio Lombardo
Venus Anadyomene

1508/16

Jodocus van Winghe
Apelles Painting Campaspe

c.1600

Valentine Green, after James Barry
Venus Rising From the Sea

1772

Raphaelle Peale
Venus Rising from the Sea – a Deception

c.1822

François Duquesnoy
Apollo and Cupid

1635/40

Georg Raphael Donner
Apollo

c.1728

Georg Raphael Donner
Mercury and Cupid

1725/26

After Filippo Brunelleschi
Sacrifice of Isaac

1401

After Lorenzo Ghiberti
Sacrifice of Isaac

1401

Antonio Pollaiuolo, here attributed
The Birth of St John the Baptist

1477/78

Benedetto da Maiano
The Birth of St John the Baptist

1477/78

Peter Paul Rubens, after Leonardo da Vinci
Fight for the Standard

c.1605

Lorenzo Zacchia, after Leonardo da Vinci
Fight for the Standard

1558

Bastiano da Sangallo, called Aristotile, after Michelangelo
The Battle of Cascina

1542

Michelangelo
Studies of a Raised Arm

c.1504

Agostino Veneziano, after Michelangelo
Five Soldiers (from The Battle of Cascina)

1524

Marcantonio Raimondi, after Michelangelo
The Climbers (from The Battle of Cascina)

1510

Benvenuto Cellini
Perseus with the Head of Medusa

Florence, 1545/9

After Giambologna
Rape of a Sabine Woman

Florence, 17th cent.

Francesco Petrarca
Sonetti, canzoni e triomphi (title page)

Venice, Pietro & Giovanni Maria de’ Nicolini da Sabbio, 1549

Giorgione
Portrait of a Young Woman (‘Laura’)

1506

Titian
Benedetto Varchi

1537/41

Benedetto Varchi
Lezzioni di M. Benedetto Varchi Accademico Fiorentino

Florence, Filippo Giunti, 1590

Giovanni Bellini
Young Woman at Her Toilet

1515

Lorenzo Lotto
Triple Portrait of a Goldsmith

1525/35

Andrea Mantegna
Abraham Sacrificing Isaac

1490/95

Georg Schweigger
The Baptism of Christ

Nuremberg, c.1645

Bartholomäus Spranger
Odysseus and Circe

1580/85

Hubert Gerhard
Mars, Venus, and Cupid

Augsburg or Munich, 1580/90

Sebastian Stoskopff
Trompe l’oeil (The Triumph of Galatea)

before 1651

Marten Jozef Geeraerts
Trompe l’oeil with Amor and Psyche Relief

1755

Frans Floris – Workshop
A Portrait of Michelangelo

c.1550

Giambologna, after Michelangelo
Notte (Night)

before 1573

Titian
Danae

after 1554

After Michelangelo
Pietà of St Peter

Rome (?), 17th cent.

Ludovico Cigoli
Pietà

1599 or shortly after

Annibale Carracci
Pietà

c.1603

After Michelangelo (Bartolomeo Ammannati?)
Moses

c.1550

Valentin de Boulogne
Moses with the Tablets

c.1628

After Michelangelo
The Abduction of Ganymede

1575/80

Peter Paul Rubens
The Abduction of Ganymede

1611/12

Titian
Girl in a Fur

c.1535

Peter Paul Rubens
Helena Fourment in a Fur Coat (‘Het Pelsken’)

1636/38

Titian
Isabella d’Este

1534/36

Peter Paul Rubens, after Titian
Isabella d’Este

1600/01

Andrea Mantegna
St Sebastian

1457/59

Giovanni Bellini
St Sebastian (recto), Head of a Man (verso)

early 1460s

Sofonisba Anguissola
Self-Portrait

1554

Lavinia Fontana
Self-Portrait

1579

Anthonis van Dyck
Self-Portrait

1615/16

Anthonis van Dyck
Self-Portrait

1616/17

Peter Paul Rubens / Anthonis van Dyck
St Ambrose and Emperor Theodosius

c.1617

Anthonis van Dyck
St Ambrose and Emperor Theodosius

1618/19

Tleson
Little-Master Cup

c.540 BCE

Giorgio Vasari (1511–1574)
Portrait of Andrea del Castagno

from: Giorgio Vasari, Le Vite De’ Piv Eccellenti Pittori, Scvltori, E Architettori […], Florenz, Giunti, 1568

Roberto Venturi
Giovanni Bellini Has Himself Portrayed by the Painter Antonello da Messina in Order to Discover the New Way of Painting in Oils

1870

Andrea Mantegna
Battle of the Sea Gods (Two Parts)

2nd half of the 15th cent.

Filippo Negroli / Giovan Battista Negroli
Medusa Shield

1550/55

Joachim von Sandrart
Minerva and Tempus Protecting the Arts and Sciences from Envy and Lies

1644

Christopher Paudiss
Wolf, Fox, and Sheep

1666

Franz Rösel von Rosenhof
Wolf, Fox, and Sheep

1666

Carlo Dolci
Allegory of Sincerity

1659/65

Luca Giordano
St Rosalia

c.1697

Gasparo de Vecchi
Construction Survey of the Palazzo Ferratini, the Cappella dei Re Magi by Bernini, and the East Wing by De Vecchio, Together with the Designs for Borromini’s Alterations and Plans for the New South and West Wings of the Collegio di Propaganda Fide

1646/47

Francesco Borromini
First Project for the Enlargement of the Cappella dei Re Magi with Underlaid Ground Plan of Bernini’s Previous Structure

 

Gasparo de Vecchi
Complete Ground Plan for the New South and West Wings and the Cappella dei Re Magi Designed by Francesco Borromini

1660

Christoph Lencker
Basin with Scenes from the Story of Europa

Augsburg, c.1602 (before 1606)

Anton Schweinberger, goldsmith work / carving attributed to Nikolaus Pfaff
Ewer with Seychelles Nut

Prague, 1602

Christoph Jamnitzer
Ewer and Basin Set, so-called Trionfi Set

Nuremberg, 1601/02

Paulus van Vianen
Ewer and Basin Set with Scenes from the Story of Diana

Prague, 1613

Albrecht Dürer
The Virgin and Child (Maria lactans)

1512 (?)

Daniel Fröschl
The Virgin and Child (Maria lactans) with a Self Portrait of the Young Dürer

after 1603 or 1607

Titian
Jacopo Strada

1567/68

Tintoretto
Ottavio Strada

1567

Tintoretto
Sebastiano Venier

c.1572

Tizian
The Doge Francesco Venier

1554/56

Il Cerano / Giulio Cesare Procaccini / Il Morazzone
Martyrdom of Saints Rufina and Seconda, named by Giovanni Pasta ‘The Painting by Three Artists’

1617/18

Peter Paul Rubens and Workshop
The Head of Medusa

1612/13

Jan Brueghel d. Ä.
Animal Sketches (Dogs)

c.1616

Flemish, after Peter Paul Rubens and Jan Brueghel the Elder
Diana Resting after the Hunt

17th cent.

Hendrick van Balen / Jan Brueghel the Younger
The Rape of Europa

1625/31

Pieter van Avont / Jan Brueghel the Younger
Flora in the Garden

1652

Jan Vermeyen, goldsmith work / workshop of Ottavio Miseroni, hardstone carving
Lidded Cup

Prague, 1600/05

Jobst Bürgi / hardstone carving attributed to Ottavio Miseroni
The Vienna Crystal Clock

Prague, 1622/27

Roger de Piles
Cours de Peinture par principes

Paris, Jacques Estienne, 1708

Charles-Nicolas Cochin
Competition for the Prix Caylus 1761

1761

Joseph-Benoît Suvée
Minerva Fighting Mars

1771

Jacques-Louis David
Minerva Fighting Mars

1771

Claude-Joseph Vernet (1714–1789)
Shipwreck in Stormy Seas

1770

Philippe-Jacques de Loutherbourg / Pierre-Antoine de Machy
Stormy Sea near a Harbour

1771

Joseph-Sifrède Duplessis
Christoph Willibald Gluck

1775

Jean-Antoine Houdon
Christoph Willibald Gluck

1775

Franz Anton Maulbertsch
Allegory of an Award Ceremony at the Viennese Academy During the Tenure of Wenzel Anton, Prince of Kaunitz-Rietberg

c.1787

Jean Mauger
THE CLEMENCY OF THE KING

1666

Jean Mauger / Thomas Bernard, engravers
Medal Celebrating the Founding of the Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture in Paris and Rome 1667

1667

Giovanni Martino Hamerani, engraver
Prize Medal Presented by the Accademia Nazionale di San Luca in Rome

1702

Ermenegildo Hamerani / Giovanni Martino Hamerani (1646–1705), engravers
Prize Medal Presented by the Accademia Nazionale di San Luca in Rome

1707

Benedikt Richter / Matthäus Donner, engravers
Small Prize Medal for the k.k. Hofakademie der Maler, Bildhauer und Baukunst in Vienna

1731

Benedikt Richter / Matthäus Donner, engravers
Large Prize Medal Presented by the k.k. Hofakademie der Maler, Bildhauer und Baukunst in Vienna

1731

After Jean Dassier
Chain of Honour with a Medallion Showing Maria Theresa as Duchess of Milan

1763

Public tours

TueWedThuFriSat + Sun
3 p.m.11 a.m.6 p.m.11 a.m.4 p.m.

Book a ticket with tour

Would you like to book your own private tour?

For your family or friends, for your birthday party or company party: You can book your private tour of the special exhibition for any occasion!

For information:
T +43 1 525 24 - 5202
Mon - Fri, 9 a.m. - 12 p.m
kunstvermittlung@khm.at

Would you like to book your own private tour?

For your family or friends, for your birthday party or company party: You can book your private tour of the special exhibition for any occasion!

For information:
T +43 1 525 24 - 5202
Mon - Fri, 9 a.m. - 12 p.m
kunstvermittlung@khm.at