Tag Archives: johann balthasar neumann

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.

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SPÄTBAROCK IN SÜDDEUTSCHLAND III: The Abbey Church of Neresheim

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The Benedictine Abbey at Neresheim is located in the eastern foothills of the Schwabian Alps. Beginning in the late 17th century, the monastery underwent a series of reforms, renovations and renewals of its purpose, its personnel, and its built environment. After much internal debate, in 1745, the decision was taken to build a new abbey church instead of rebuilding the old Romanesque church, which had been superficially updated to the Baroque style in the late 17th century. Abbot Amandus Fischer (1711-29) had brought in architect Dominikus Zimmermann to rebuild and redecorate the abbey’s Festsaal, which was carried out in 1719-20 in the high Rococo style.

Seeking stylistic continuity with his predecessor’s building program, Abbot Aurelius Braisch (1739-55) commissioned architect and building engineer Johann Balthasar Neumann to rebuild the abbey church in 1747. Neumann, the most sought-after architect in central Europe at the time, had designed the pilgrimage church of Vierzehnheiligen and the Prince-Bishop’s Residenz at Würzburg, which were admired for their formal invention, sumptuous materials and lightness of touch. Neumann’s plan called for a conventional basilica consisting of nave, crossing and choir which were articulated as a series of oval-shaped bays surmounted with shallow domes.

The groundstone of the new church was laid in 1750, but Neumann’s premature death in 1753 necessitated the finding of new builders willing to carry out his plans. Subsequent architects altered or abandoned the original design, particularly the construction and profile of the the domes, which slowed progress. The finished church, consecrated in 1792, should be attributed to Neumann with reservations or characterized as the work of disparate hands.

The domes were frescoed by Austrian painter Martin Knoller over the six summers of 1770-75. Seven scenes from the Life of Christ are depicted, including Christ among the Doctors, the Last Supper and the Ascension.

Johann Nepomuk Holzhey of Ottobeuren built the last of the great South-German, Baroque organs at Neresheim over the years 1792 bis 1797.

In 1802, the monastery was suppressed and secularized. Due to the disruptions caused by the Napoleonic invasion, custodianship over the abbey’s assets and property was granted to the Princely House of Thurn und Taxis for the years 1803-06. Afterwards, the Bavarian state assumed ownership. Both the abbey and the principality of Thurn und Taxis were annexed by the kingdom of Württemberg in 1810.

With the generous support of the house of Thurn und Taxis, the monastery at Neresheim was able to reopen in 1919, seeded by Benedictine establishments in Austria and Czechoslovakia. The abbey was church was restored in 1990 and declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

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).