Continual warfare and political instability mark the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries in central Europe. Throughout the period, the power of the Habsburg empire grows in Austria and Hungary but wanes in Germany, where Prussian and Saxon leaders wield increasing influence. When they are not actively engaged in warfare, however, the many wealthy noblemen competing for power in the region are happy to support the arts. Scores of artists are employed in Vienna, the Habsburg capital, but many more work in other burgeoning cities, such as Dresden, Munich, Berlin, Warsaw, Prague, and Bratislava. The rift between Catholics and Protestants continues to cause conflict, and dynastic struggles among ambitious princes engender continual violence. Despite these upheavals, however, the arts develop with unprecedented vigor. A distinctive and long-lived Baroque style is forged in Austria, and throughout the German-speaking countries, literature and music flourish along with architecture, painting, and industry.
The Frankfurt-born painter Adam Elsheimer goes to Rome, where he remains until his early death in 1610. On his journey, he passes through Bavaria and Venice, where he sees works by Albrecht Altdorfer, Veronese, and Jacopo Bassano, whose styles inform his own. He is especially celebrated for his small-scale works on copper, which display both a miniaturist’s feeling for sharp detail and the monumentality of Roman Baroque work.
The devoutly Catholic Habsburg emperor Ferdinand II (r. 1619–37) invites Jesuits, Theatines, Augustinians, and other missionary orders to Vienna in order to convert his many Protestant subjects. Most of those who answer the call are Italians, who bring with them Italian architects and artists to build churches for them, as well as composers and musicians to animate their liturgy. As a result, the Roman Baroque style, a primary source for the Viennese Baroque of the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, is introduced into the Habsburg capital.
In Prague, a predominantly Protestant city, a mob of citizens angrily throws the resident Habsburg governors from a castle window. This so-called Defenestration of Prague marks the beginning of the Thirty Years’ War, in which the ambitions and animosities fueled by the Reformation in central Europe erupt in a generation-long conflict. The situation creates a slim market for painters, sculptors, and architects, and stalls the training of apprentices in those arts. As a result, when peace is declared in 1648, few central European artists are available, and commissions go instead to artists recently arrived from Italy and France.
The wealthy mercantile city of Augsburg in southern Germany, eager to protect itself against the mounting dangers of war, sends an ebony cabinet of local manufacture as a diplomatic present to one of the belligerents in the Thirty Years’ War, Gustavus Adolphus, king of Sweden. Intended as a microcosm of the entire world, the cabinet (now in the Universitet Konstsamling, Uppsala) incorporates precious materials, the work of several skilled craftsmen, and the learned advice of the humanist scholar Philipp Hainhofer. A generation later, after the conclusion of the Thirty Years’ War, Augsburg has become an important center of production for luxury furniture, including pieces embellished with silver overlays, hardstones, exotic woods, and a profusion of classical ornament. Noblemen throughout central Europe, fascinated by wonders and eager to impress their own courts as well as their rivals, eagerly collect these splendid pieces.
A group of Jesuits recently arrived in the Hungarian town of Györ begin to build a church there, dedicated to Saint Ignatius Loyola. The central section of the facade, like a Roman Baroque structure, is crowned with a rounded pediment flanked by volutes, but the towers on either side are crowned with squared onion domes of local inspiration. Encouraged by the Habsburgs in their efforts to convert the largely Protestant Hungarian population, the Jesuits launch another program of artistic patronage in the 1740s, when they commission ceiling frescoes and altarpieces by Paul Troger (1698–1762), the most celebrated painter in Vienna at that time.
Frederick William becomes elector of Brandenburg in northern Germany. Under his leadership, Prussian armies repeatedly triumph, leaving him in a position to challenge the authority of the Habsburg emperors to whom he is nominally subject. In keeping with his growing ambitions, he invites engineers and architects from Holland to enlarge the city of Berlin by draining marshes, extending parks, and constructing new planned neighborhoods. His rule raises Prussia to new prominence in European affairs, and he is remembered as the “Great Elector.” When he dies in 1688, his heir sees the chance to build on his foundations and, in 1701, is crowned King Frederick of Prussia.
György Rákóczi II becomes prince of Transylvania, a region whose boundaries embrace parts of modern-day Hungary and Romania. Long subject to Ottoman rule, Transylvania is still nominally part of the Ottoman empire, but under the energetic leadership of the Rákóczi princes in the first half of the seventeenth century, it enjoys considerable independence.
For his court in Vienna, the Habsburg emperor Leopold I (r. 1658–1705) spends lavishly on an equestrian ballet meant to demonstrate the splendor of his rule. The spectacle involves fleets of ships afloat on artificial lakes, parades of horses and carriages, some seeming to fly through the air, and thousands of fireworks sent up around models of Mount Etna and Mount Parnassus.
Ottoman armies sweep westward through Hungary and lay siege to Vienna. An army led by the Polish king John III Sobieski (r. 1674–96) and commanded also by the twenty-year-old Eugene of Savoy (1663–1736) at last relieves the city, and the Ottomans are driven back to their former borders. The memory of the Ottoman campaign, however, leaves a profound impression on the arts in the Habsburg lands. Vienna becomes the chief residence of the emperors, an imperial capital in every sense. The city center must accommodate the enormous number of personnel employed at court, which by 1730 comprises a quarter of Vienna’s population.
Stanislaus Studzinski completes the organ in the abbey church of Lezajask in eastern Poland. Situated in a region through which hostile armies repeatedly march, the monastery is surrounded by imposing fortifications, but inside is sumptuously adorned. The cases for the organ pipes, lavishly embellished with gilt wooden sculptures of classical and biblical personages, complement the ornately carved choir and altar furnishings. The interplay of differently treated wooden surfaces creates a visual effect reminiscent of contrapuntal music, the sort played on the organ here and elsewhere in the Baroque period. Two of the most celebrated Baroque composers, Johann Sebastian Bach and Georg Frideric Handel, are born in Germany in 1685.
The Habsburg court sculptor Matthias Steinl (ca. 1644–1727) carves an equestrian statue of Leopold II (today in the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna). Although Leopold (r. 1790–92) fled from Vienna during the Ottoman siege, in the statue he is shown on a rearing horse below whose hoofs a Turkish adversary cringes in defeat. A fine example of the Austrian Baroque, the statue displays a feeling of heroic drama typical of Italian work as well as ornamental details derived from late Gothic sculpture, such as the fine curls of the horse’s tail and the elaborate patterns of Leopold’s saddle cloth.
At Dresden, the capital of Saxony, construction begins on the Zwinger, an ornate setting for the court festivities of the bold elector Frederick Augustus, who also rules as Augustus the Strong, king of Poland, from 1697. The architect Matthäus Daniel Pöppelmann conceives the structure as a courtyard of vast dimensions surrounded by pavilions of fanciful form; one is equipped as a nymphaeum with a waterfall, and another recalls a triumphal arch with an open three-bayed arcade on the ground floor and an enclosed space above. Balthasar Permoser (1651–1732) creates a rich and fanciful program of sculptural ornament, including heavy garlands, lively atlas figures, and a host of animated personifications. The ornately decorated staircases, galleries, and walkways laid throughout the Zwinger provide a sumptuous background for the movements of Frederick Augustus’ courtiers, both when they parade in state and when they stand as spectators for each other.
Frederick Augustus of Saxony establishes a porcelain factory at Meissen on the Elbe near Dresden and appoints Johann Friedrich Böttger (1682–1719) as its director. Eager to increase his own wealth and prestige, Frederick Augustus promotes manufacturing, mining, and industry throughout his lands, but the Meissen factory represents the culmination of a special project. For years, he had pressed Böttger to develop a means whereby ordinary metal might be transformed into gold. Failing in this, Böttger discovered instead the formula for making “true” or hard-paste porcelain, which until then was kept secret in China and eagerly sought in Europe. The Meissen factory produces pieces of miniature sculpture admired for their pure white luster and sets of dishes fit to challenge the popularity of Chinese imports.
The war hero Prince Eugene of Savoy begins construction on the first of two palaces at the Belvedere, his beautiful summer property near Vienna. Because the Habsburgs had rewarded him generously for his military successes, he can afford to build both residences with remarkable speed: the first, the Lower Belvedere, is completed in three years, and the second, the Upper Belvedere, in two (1721–22). The architect Lukas von Hildebrandt fills both with spectacular rooms, ceremonial stairways, and daring sculptural details; he also employs numerous Italian painters to decorate the ceilings, including Martino Altomonte, Marcantonio Chiarini, Gaetano Fanti, and Carlo Innocenzo Carloni. Later, Prince Eugene’s heirs sell the Belvedere to the Habsburgs, who convert it into a public picture gallery, the world’s first, in 1776.
In Vienna, work begins on the Karlskirche, the fulfillment of a vow made by the emperor Charles IV and the culmination of the prolific career of the architect Johann Bernhard Fischer von Erlach (1656–1723). Three years before, in 1712, Fischer von Erlach had compiled an illustrated treatise on architectural history, describing not only exemplary buildings in Italy, where he had trained with Gian Lorenzo Bernini, but also reconstructions of legendary ancient monuments and imaginative views of Far Eastern buildings. In his design for the Karlskirche, he draws on his vast erudition by integrating features borrowed from eclectic sources: the facade, for example, has a pediment and columns like a classical temple, as well as a dome set on a high drum in the manner of Michelangelo, but of an oval plan reminiscent of Borromini’s architecture. In front of the church, he places two free-standing columns adorned with spiraling figural friezes, elements that allude simultaneously to the Pillars of Hercules, the Temple of Solomon, and the monuments of the Roman emperors Trajan and Marcus Aurelius.
Near Kuks in Bohemia, Count Franz Anton Sporck founds the Bethlehem Forest Park. A magnificent integration of art and nature, the park is adorned with biblical scenes carved in high relief out of natural outcrops of sandstone by Matyás Bernard Braun (1684–1738). In addition to encouraging religious devotion, the project also indulges in grand manner a widespread eighteenth-century taste for the unusual and unexpected.
Emmerich (Imre) Esterházy, the energetic bishop of Estergom in modern-day Slovakia, rebuilds Saint Martin’s Cathedral in Bratislava in the Baroque style. Instrumental in this work is the sculptor Georg Raphael Donner (1693–1741), who carves figures of saints and angels for the facade and interior. Under the patronage of Bishop Esterházy, the arts flourish in Bratislava, and Donner spends the balance of his career there, training apprentices and executing commissions for patrons throughout the Habsburg domains.
Belgian-born architect Jean François Cuvilliés, the Elder (1695–1768) designs the Amalienburg Pavilion, a delicate little building meant for resting in the gardens of the Nymphenburg Palace near Munich, a residence of the electors of Bavaria. Cuvilliés had studied in Paris and brought the newest trends in Rococo design to Munich. The interior of the Amalienburg, one of his most accomplished buildings, is reminiscent of a jewel box, painted in pastel colors and adorned with mirrors, porcelain, and crystal chandeliers.
Frederick II of Prussia, who holds the art of the snuffbox in great esteem, forbids the import of French snuffboxes in order to encourage German production. His own collection eventually numbers over 1,500 exquisite jeweled and enameled examples, including works by Daniel Baudesson and the crown jewelers of Prussia, André and Jean-Louis Jordan.
The southern German architect Johann Balthasar Neumann (1687–1753) has many ambitious projects in progress. Near Staffelstein, work commences on the Church of Vierzehnheiligen (Christ’s fourteen helpers), where Neumann creates an ingenious plan composed of intersecting ovals to contain a central shrine. Curving planes, exuberant ornament, an innovative plan, and beautiful illumination, hallmarks of Neumann’s best buildings, appear also in the palace he realizes for the Residenz of the prince-bishops of Würzburg beginning in 1720. Here a dramatic double staircase leads to a lofty reception room, the Kaisersaal, in which a swelling vault floats on curved walls adorned with niches, marble columns, and gilt embellishments. In 1751, the Venetian painter Giovanni Battista Tiepolo (1696–1770) arrives to complete the staircase and the Kaisersaal with brilliantly illusionistic ceiling frescoes in pastel colors admirably suited to the brightness of Neumann’s interiors.
At Potsdam near Berlin, the Prussian capital, construction begins on the palace of Sanssouci (“Without a Care”), the summer retreat of Frederick II designed by Friedrich Wilhelm Diterichs (1702–1782?). The building is situated atop a terraced garden planted with fruit trees and adorned with statuary; a central staircase links the palace above with the extensive parks and waterworks below. The garden front of the palace is symmetrical and graceful, with atlas pilasters and arched windows extending to the ground; in the center is the Marble Room, a round space set with marble columns and modeled on the Pantheon in Rome. The delicate and whimsical ornament of Sanssouci reflect Frederick’s peaceable interests—in music, horticulture, and classical refinement—rather than his military exploits.
Giuseppe and Carlo Galli Bibiena of Bologna complete the Margrave’s Opera House (Markgräfliches Opernhaus) in the Bavarian town of Bayreuth for the Markgräfin Willhelmine, sister of Frederick II of Prussia. The theater allows for extravagant performances both on the stage and in the auditorium: the latter is equipped with three tiers of boxes meant for audiences of glittering courtiers, and the former is graced with ingenious sets whose deep perspectives, designed by the Galli Bibiena, seem continuous with the spectators’ space. Opera, a new art form in the eighteenth century, realized an integration of all the arts in lavish spectacles and so fulfilled an aspiration felt throughout the Baroque period. The opera house at Bayreuth, embellished with gilding and lit with hundreds of candles, is meant for an aristocratic audience and closed to those outside the court, but its example impresses the nineteenth-century composer Richard Wagner, who builds his own more democratic Festival Theater nearby in 1872.
The architect Dominikus Zimmermann (1685–1766), and his brother, the painter and stucco master Johann Baptist Zimmermann (1680–1758), complete Die Wies, a delightful church in southern Germany. The walls are pierced with large windows that admit bright sunlight, and the interior is encrusted with stucco ornament as delicate as molded sugar. Frescoed on the ceiling is a Rococo translation of a dire and venerable theme, the Last Judgment: here, Christ sits on a rainbow above figures in courtly poses and pastel draperies. Die Wies becomes a popular destination for eighteenth-century pilgrims and offers them a vision of paradise full of grace and light.
Johann Joachim Winckelmann (1717–1768) moves to Dresden, where he forms a negative judgment of contemporary art and a notion that conscientious imitation of classical Greek models may redeem it. The following year, he publishes an impassioned and influential treatise entitled “Thoughts on the Imitation of Greek Works in Painting and Sculpture,” and leaves Germany for Rome, where he continues to promote the Neoclassical revival and writes a magisterial history of ancient art, the first to classify antiquities by style and period.
The great subversive wit and writer Voltaire (1694–1778) flees France and goes to Geneva, where Jean-Jacques Rousseau has been living since 1712. Switzerland, weak and impoverished throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, nevertheless supplies mercenaries to the other European powers and offers refuge for free-thinkers persecuted elsewhere.
At the ancient Abbey of Saint Gall in Switzerland, the library, long a center of the monastic community, is refashioned in an ambitious renovation. The new reading room has a ceiling adorned with trompe l’oeil paintings and stucco, a wooden floor inlaid with scrolling patterns, and a surrounding gallery of undulating plan. An inscription pronounces the library a place for healing the spirit, but its luxurious furnishings serve also to delight the eye and to follow fashion, for many central European religious foundations grow wealthy in the eighteenth century and use their wealth to sponsor magnificent building enterprises.
At Fertod in Hungary, the ducal Esterházy family, one of the richest in the Habsburg empire, arrays their summer estate with regal grandeur. The palace is painted yellow ochre and outfitted with French windows, sweeping enfilades, and formal gardens in the manner of Versailles. Among the special appurtenances of Fertod are a puppet theater and an opera house where the composer Joseph Haydn (1732–1809), long a beneficiary of Esterházy patronage, conducts on many occasions.
Bernardo Bellotto (1722–1780) is named court painter to King Stanislaus II of Poland (r. 1764–95). The nephew of the celebrated Venetian view painter Canaletto, Bellotto studied with his uncle, painting the sights of Venice, before leaving to find new material and new patrons in northern Italy and later in Dresden. But after his release from employment at court in 1763, he traveled again. Bound for Saint Petersburg, he stopped at Warsaw and remained there until his death in 1780. Stanislaus, eager to proclaim the stature of his capital city, is pleased to have Bellotto paint Warsaw and commissions a series of twenty-six views to adorn the royal castle. For the series, Bellotto employs linear perspective, a raking light source, and a wealth of atmospheric detail, but he emphasizes momentary scenes of pageantry rather than enduring buildings. For instance, his view of the king’s election, painted in 1778 (and still in the royal castle), depicts an open field framed with trees in which a multitude of people stand in ceremonious rows and so define the orthogonals of a perspective system.
At Magyarpolány (in modern Hungary), settlers from Swabia commission a Calvary beneath the Church of Saint Ladislaus. A devotional structure popular in their south German homeland, the Calvary consists of an outdoor staircase bordered with small shelters that house wooden sculptures of the Stations of the Cross with lifesized figures carved by the Listner brothers. Throughout the eighteenth century, stability increases in Hungary, and with it, immigration from other parts of the Habsburg empire.
The Swiss painter and draftsman Henri Fuseli (1741–1825) goes to Rome and joins an expanding circle of artists working in the Neoclassical mode. Although he draws works of ancient statuary and studies other monuments of classical antiquity, Fuseli soon distinguishes himself for painting scenes that bring to life irrational fears and nightmarish apparitions.
The German author Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749–1832) publishes an essay on German architecture. Although his education predisposes him to admire all things classical, Goethe expresses admiration for Gothic buildings, in his day regarded as emblems of superstition and barbarism. Throughout his career as a novelist, essayist, scientist, and playwright, Goethe finds a way both to embrace time-honored forms and to challenge received ideas. In addition to works of classical drama and tales in the spirit of Sturm und Drang, Goethe writes inspired essays on art. Beginning in 1776, he assists Duke Karl August of Saxe-Weimar in the creation of a pleasure park at Weimar, complete with architectural follies of Gothic and classical design.
The Gloriette is built at the Habsburg summer residence of Schönbrunn near Vienna, the favorite palace of the empress Maria Theresa (r. 1740–80). Designed by Ferdinand von Hohenburg, the structure combines the imperial majesty of a triumphal arch with the delicate grace of a Rococo pavilion. The Gloriette marks the summit of the royal park at Schönbrunn, which, like the gardens at Versailles, is set with waterworks and statuary that express and glorify the reigning monarch. The Gloriette in particular celebrates the victories of Maria Theresa over the repeated challenges posed by her archenemy, Frederick II of Prussia.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756–1791) goes to Prague to supervise the final rehearsals and premiere of his new opera, Don Giovanni. Immediately acclaimed for its brilliant music, the opera recounts the adventures and the death of the legendary seducer Don Juan. In the final scene, the ghostly statue of an old soldier, a haunting image of old manners and ideals, arrives to dine with Don Giovanni—and to escort him to hell. Born among the Baroque buildings of Salzburg in 1756, Mozart performed at Schönbrunn at the age of six, when he enchanted the imperial family by leaping into the lap of the youthful Marie-Antoinette and asking her to marry him.
The German sculptor Johann Heinrich Dannecker (1758–1841) makes a stucco bust of his long-time friend, the author Friedrich Schiller (1759–1805), whose writings blend the classical tradition with the passionate stirrings of early Romanticism. Dannecker represents Schiller accordingly as a young man with Apollonian features, bare shoulders, long locks of hair, and an expression both noble and brooding.
The much-diminished territory of Poland is divided among the rulers of Russia, Prussia, and the Habsburg empire after generations of constant warfare and government by ineffectual kings, many of them puppets of the stronger surrounding states.
In Munich, Alois Senefelder (1771–1834) invents lithography, a printmaking technique in which impressions are made from a stone inked in a greasy medium. Although Senefelder developed the process to reduce the costs of printing music, he soon recognizes its potential for the graphic arts. In the nineteenth century, lithography is used widely by commercial printers as well as by artists, including Karl Friedrich Schinkel, Francisco Goya, and Adolph Menzel.
“Central Europe (including Germany), 1600–1800 A.D.” In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/ht/?period=09®ion=euwc (October 2003)