Under the sign of Fortuna

Hovering between dance and death

The centuries between 1500 and 1800 – the Early Modern Period – mark the transition from the Christian world view of the Middle Ages to the Enlightenment on the cusp of the Modern Age. We usually associate it with the splendour of the Renaissance the magnificence of the Baroque. But the glossy façade masks a cruel reality. The two faces of the period are reflected in the sign of Fortuna, the capricious goddess of chance, whose inconstant moods can change from one moment to the next.


On the one side we have dazzling pageantry and festive splendour, celebrations in cities and villages which can last days and weeks, with merchandise streaming in to Europe from all parts of the world, and scholarship that fills entire libraries. On the other, destitution and untold misery rule the day: War leaves entire tracts of land bereft of people turning vibrant land into desert. Hunger, poverty, sickness and death are everywhere. And yet an irrepressible will to live defines the epoch. Precisely because every moment can be one’s last, each moment of happiness is cause for celebration.

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Triumph of Death

Jan Brueghel the Elder

The ubiquity of death in times of need is a fundamental experience of the age. Brueghel mercilessly depicts the omnipotence of death, whose hordes drive a tormented humanity into a trap.  more...

Infantry Skirmish

Cornelis de Wael

War is a defining feature of the age and many conflicts drag on for decades. Times of peace are often little more than ceasefires.  more...


Joannes de Cordua

Scarcely any other thought shapes the era as much as knowledge about the transience of all things on earth. Nothing on earth endures.  more...

The Burden of Life

Jacob de Backer

In the visual language of the Renaissance, man’s path through life is mainly shaped by hardship and becomes a formula in which heroic exaggeration replaces reality.  more...

Knife-Grinder and Fortune Teller

Giacomo Francesco Cipper, called il Todeschini

Despite all the difficulties and dangers, many travelers are traveling in early modern Europe. Add to that a multitude of people forced to live on the streets.  more...

Young Cavalier and Fortune Teller

Jan Cossiers

Then as now, those at the top and bottom are a theme of the times. The »outcasts« of the Baroque fascinate the art of its time, which however always places them in the sphere of the disreputable and casts them in a literally poor light.  more...

Forest Landscape with elegant Hunting Party

Denis van Alsloot

There is also another side, however, to the countenance of the era. It is marked by splendour, the enjoyment of life and a grandiose festive culture.  more...

An Academy Class

Johann Heinrich Schönfeld

Those promoting the arts ensure that their memory lives on.  more...

Flemish Fair

Pieter Brueghel the Younger

Away from the royal courts, the common people develop their own culture, which despite all the constraints allows full development of the joy of life. Harvest-time, weddings and church festivals offer a plethora of occasions. Otherwise, hard work defines the lives of the Farmers.  more...

Apollo as Protector of Viniculture

Marten van Valckenborch the Elder

Marten van Valckenborch the Elder (1535–1612) Circle Apollo as Protector of Viniculture Oil on canvas Inv. no. 902  more...

David with the Head of Goliath

Domenico Fetti

The roles of all social classes are enshrined in the ideal society of the early modern period. Regents and the Church expect obedient subjects. Ideal behaviour is taught and preached, art depicts virtuous heroes as role models.  more...

Drunken Silenus

Jusepe de Ribera

Not only heroic deeds, but also snug pleasure, offer a refuge in times of distress. This is what Silenus, a follower of the wine god Bacchus, stands for, ...  more...

Alte Galerie, Schloss Eggenberg

Eggenberger Allee 90
8020 Graz, Österreich
T +43-316/8017-9560


Opening Hours

1 November to 17 December only with guided tour by prior appointment
April to October Tue-Sun, public holidays 10am-6pm 

Opening Hours Library
Tues–Fri 10am–12pm and afternoons by appointment only


10th April 2023
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29th May 2023