Tag Archives: german architecture – 18thc.


The Princess Wilhelmine of Prussia (1709 –1758), the older sister of Frederick the Great, was a musician, the lute being her principle instrument, and a composer of opera and chamber music. Through marriage, she became the Margravine of Brandenburg-Bayreuth in 1731. Her ambition to make Bayreuth a major musical center necessitated the building of a modern performance space, adequate to the staging of operas. In 1744, she commissioned architect Joseph de Saint-Pierre to build an opera house, to be situated on the main square in Bayreuth, and the Bolognese theatre architect Giuseppe Galli Bibiena and his son Carlo, to design its interior, including the stage, seating, lighting and acoustics. The opera house was completed in just four years and opened in 1748. In a letter to Frederick the Great of 14 May 1748 announcing the completion of the opera house, Wilhelmine shows herself to be a discriminating and informed patron:

Dieser Tage habe ich das neue Opernhaus besichtigt. Ich war sehr erfreut darüber. Das Innere ist fast vollendet. Bibiena hat in diesem Theater die Quintessenz des italienischen und französischen Stils vereinigt. Man muss zugeben, dass er in seinem Fach ein unübertroffener Meister ist.

Wilhelmine subsequently participated in the theatre’s programs as writer, player, composer, actor and director.

As theatricality is a hallmark of both the Baroque style and absolute monarchies, it seems only natural that after palaces and churches, the building of ornately-decorated theatres was a major form of absolutist architectural self-expression. Not only did the magnificence of the structure and its decoration reflect positively on the wealth, taste, and glory of the ruler, festivals, court masques, operas, dances and allegorical plays were performed there on important occasions to praise the ruler or to commemorate births, military victories, anniversaries, birthdays and coronations. Wilhelmine, the sister of and absolute monarch and wife of an absolutist prince had the Bayreuth opera house built party to assert similar ideological claims and party to fulfill her own artistic inclinations.


SPÄTBAROCK IN SÜDDEUTSCHLAND IV: The Treppenhaus of the Würzburg Residenz

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In his first year as Court architect and engineer, Johann Balthasar Neumann was charged with designing and building a new Residenz, in Würzburg, from the ground up, for the Prince-Bishops of Schönbrunn. As Neumann was often called away to other projects, his plans were carried out mostly by architects favored by the Prince-Bishop’s uncle and brother, including Lucas von Hildebrandt, Maximilian von Welsch and Germain Boffrand. The stone and masonry exterior was completed in 1744; the interior of the 300-room palace was finished in 1770. After Neumann’s death in 1753, Hildebrandt, Welsch and Boffrand each took full credit for the Residenz’s design in its entirety.

Neumann oversaw the building and decoration of the most important spaces in the Residenz, the suite of formal and ceremonial rooms and antechambers through which visitors passed on their way from the carriage entrance on the ground level to the Kaisersaal on the upper, where the Prince-Bishop would receive them. The centerpiece of this progression is the Treppenhaus, built in 1737. The grand, indoor staircase is the cold-climate equivalent of the double-ramp stairways seen on the exteriors of Italian villas.

Neumann had to get guests up one floor in a manner befitting their rank, without taxing them physically, and while preparing them, step-by-step, as it were, for the magnificence of the Prince-Bishop. Neumann devised a scheme whereby the two stages of the stair, which reverses direction at midpoint, forms a cantilever, allowing the huge mass of stone to be carried on think columns, giving the impression it floats on the air. In Rococo Bavaria, one did not climb or mount the stair, one ascended, drifting upwards towards the vast pastel empyrean above.

The entire span of the Treppenhaus (18m x 30m) is covered by a vast vault composed of rubble and concrete that has no supports other the the walls it rides on. Neumann’s critics warned of collapse; the vault is not only still intact today
, it survived direct hits during the Allied bombing of Würzburg on 16 May 1945, which largely destroyed the old city and much of the Residenz. Neumann made use the vault’s weight, the downward thrust of which clamps the cantilever in place at both ends. By engaging the staircase to the wall the staircase acts as a strainer arch would, countering the tendency of the walls to buckle under the load of the vault. It is a mutually-reinforcing structural solution of great elegance.

A second Treppenhaus of equal dimensions was planned for the other side of the Kaisersaal, but was never begun.

The Treppenhaus vault was frescoed by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo in 1752-53. Measuring 670m², it is the largest painting in the world painted by the highest-paid artist of the 18th century ( Tiepolo was paid 15,000 gulden, for his work at the Residenz, over 13 times the annual salary Neumann drew from his court  appointment). The fresco represents an allegory of the the world, represented by the four continents no less, paying  tribute to the Brince-Bishop. The fresco includes a portrait of Neumann, dressed in his Officer’s uniform, seated on a canon. A trompe l’oeil dog sniffs at his outstretched hand. Canon and dog must have been inside jokes between the painter and architect. Balthasar Neumann died in Würzburg just as Tiepolo was finishing the fresco, in the late summer of 1753.

Spätbarock in Süddeutschland

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A sequence of seven posts on 18thc. architectural monuments, mainly in Bavaria, including churches (Wies, Vierzehnheiligen, Ottobeuren, Weltenburg, the Asamkirche), palaces (Würzburg Residenz, Schloß Brühl, Amalienburg) and theatres (Bayreuth).