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A collection fit for a prince

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For almost seven decades, the paintings sat in darkness, locked away in warehouses in Vaduz, Liechtenstein. Occasionally, some of the works were pulled out for small, temporary exhibitions, but mostly the Liechtenstein royal family's glorious collection of Baroque masterpieces was housed in the European version of Shurgard Storage.

Until late last month, that is.

The so-called Princely Collection, sealed up in 1938 and moved out of the country in 1944 to protect it from Nazi looting, returned home to Vienna in March. The collection, which includes works by Raphael, Anthony van Dyck, Peter Paul Rubens, and Rembrandt, will once again take up residence in the newly refurbished Liechtenstein Palace.

The Liechtenstein Museum is the sole collection among Vienna's 160 museums devoted completely to the Baroque period. Museum curators hope that the return of the pieces will remind Austrians that it was the Baroque, with its art, architecture, and music, that transformed Vienna from a small medieval outpost into an international capital.

"Judging from the interest that has been shown in the reopening, I would say that we are going to be successful," says museum director Johann Kräftner. "It is going to develop into a new art center here in Vienna."

Readying the Liechtenstein Museum for visitors has been a major undertaking - especially since it's one of only a few museums in Europe that is entirely privately run and funded. Renovation of the Liechtenstein Palace and gardens, long rented out for other uses, totaled a princely sum of 23 million euro ($28.3 million).

But the construction work did yield a surprise bonus. A number of beautiful ceiling frescoes (circa 1705-1708) by Johann Michael Rottmayr were rediscovered underneath a stucco and canvas covering that had been installed in 1819 to combat leakage. Once the renewal work on the frescoes is completed next year, the building will be almost as much of an attraction as the paintings it holds.

The museum's highlight is the display of the "Decius Mus" cycle - a series of eight paintings by Rubens created between 1616 and 1617.

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