German Baroque architecture leaves us cities of wonderJul 15, 2023
Baroque in Germany is usually a style found in churches, monasteries and country residences. Baroque as an urban style is not common. The divided German lands – politically and economically – did not prosper between the Thirty Years War and the technology revolution of the mid-19th century. The tendency was for Baroque buildings to appear as replacements after fires or wars.
The finances needed for large public buildings were a rarity in the absence of a strong, unified state. Ornament and drama was used mostly by the aristocracy to impress other members of the aristocracy.
Baroque was mostly a Catholic style. There were Protestant churches under Baroque influence – notably Dresden's dazzling Frauenkirche – but the contrast between the penetration of Baroque in German and the Catholic Austrian cities is marked. It was in a Protestant city, with a ruler who converted to Catholicism, that the German Baroque found its glittering expression.
Extensive 17th century city fires provided the opportunities for Baroque rebuilding in Dresden and Passau, two German cities with prominent Baroque buildings. Both cities were receptive to Italian influences. In Heidelberg, part of the demand was created by war.
Much of what remains of Dresden’s Baroque heritage is the legacy of the elector-king August the Strong. August built his image on splendour and after a 1685 fire he directed the redesign of former old-town precincts north of the river Elbe in contemporary style.
Today, the Innere Neustadt area around Hauptstraße and Königstraße gives perhaps the best impression of the Baroque Dresden. Its stylish residential blocks were largely spared by the 1945 bombing and firestorm.
The Dreikönigskirche in Königstraße was rebuilt in the 1730s by George Bähr and Matthäus Daniel Pöppelmann as part of the replanning. The tower was a later addition. Much of the church burned in the 1945 bombing but parts of the Baroque altar survived.
August’s golden equestrian statue in gold stands at Neustädter Markt at the north end of the Augustusbrücke.
The exquisite Frauenkirche at Neumarkt, with its vast dome and flourishes, excites lovers of Baroque architecture. The circular dome, which dominates the city, is placed on top of a square plan, but the interior impression is octagonal. The interior galleries seem to link an arcaded circle. The cupola ceiling becomes a canvas for expansive painted areas accommodating an upper circle of arches, designed to admit white light. George Bähr’s early 18th century design was built as the Protestant city church of Dresden and became one of Germany’s architectural treasures. The altar, showing Christ in Gethsemane, and pulpit were placed in the central position as the focus of the light. The white and pastel colours include marbled effects.
But the church is also a miracle of reconstruction since German reunification. Less than half the original sandstone remained after the great Dresden raid and the rubble remained for decades. The rebuilding demanded an international fundraising effort.
Around the Frauenkirche, the feel of the late Baroque has returned as buildings gradually reappeared around Neumarkt as part of a blend of new designs.
The Catholic Hofkirche of the palace household reflected the royal influence in a court that after 1697 ruled both Protestant Saxony and Catholic Poland. The ornate Baroque structure, built by Italian craftsmen for August’s son, includes unusual Romanesque elements and sandstone exterior statues of saints that display strong Jesuit emphasis. It is connected to the palace by a raised passageway. August the Strong’s heart and the remains of members of the royal family are in the crypt. It did not become the Catholic cathedral until the 1960s. It is complemented by the Baroque recasting of the Hausmannsturm tower of the electoral palace, the Residenzschloß.
August’s moated pleasure palace the Zwinger was completed near the end of his life in Rococo style, topped by the gleaming Kronentor and replete with ponds and fountains. August also built the Taschenbergpalais, behind the palace, for his mistress Countess Cosel. Its Baroque exterior has been restored around a modern hotel.
The get a full sense of Baroque Dresden, visit Yadegar Asisi’s 360-degree Panometer, showing how the city of August the Strong would have looked.
The early Baroque pleasure palace Palais Großer Garten on Hauptallee in Großer Garten was the first of the Dresden Baroque palaces. Sculpted elements in the exterior are rich, combining French and Italian influences. Both these and the ornate interiors needed much reconstruction after 1945 and inside the work continues, although the lower-level ceiling stucco is complete. Sculptural works from the Zwinger requiring restoration have been displayed there since reunification. Almost 150 hectares of Baroque and English garden surround the building and five pleasure pavilions remain.
Barockgarten Großsedlitz to the south of the city was August the Strong’s finest Baroque garden but not all its buildings were finished and today only the Friedrichsschlößchen (named for an unfriendly visit by Frederick the Great, who camped there after an attack on the city) and the orangeries remain. The garden plan, fountains and sculptures give some sense of the past.
Oriental influences increased in the Dresden Baroque and the modified roofline of the early 18th century Japanisches Palais at Palaisplatz north of the Elbe reflects this. August the Strong wanted a palace for porcelain, a pie-in-the-sky project, but completed gable reliefs show Chinese and Saxon figures with porcelain pieces.
The oriental taste was most fully realised at Schloß und Park Pillnitz on the Elbe bank south-east of the city centre. August reshaped an existing manor, built new pleasure palaces and laid out superb gardens. The complex consists of three main buildings, the riverside palace (Wasserpalais) on the riverfront; the upper palace (Bergpalais) on the hillside, both Baroque with Chinoiserie elements; and the later Neoclassical Neues Palais, which links them together on the east side. The buildings enclose a Baroque garden. The Schloßmuseum is in the Neues Palais complex and the Kunstgewerbemuseum decorative arts collections are in the Wasserpalais and Bergpalais buildings.
Also a short trip from Dresden is the hunting lodge and pleasure palace Schloß Moritzburg in the middle of a lake north of the city. Apart from the striking location there are Baroque fittings and interiors, including a banquet hall decorated with hunting trophies and the Federzimmer state bedroom with more than a million bird feathers woven into its decoration. In the extensive parklands is the two-story pavilion Fasanenschlößchen, mixing Baroque and Rococo elements.
During the War of the Palatinate Succession, Heidelberg in 1689 and 1693 suffered extensive damage from attacks by French forces under Louis XIV. Schloß Heidelberg was largely wrecked and remains a romantic semi-ruin. The second attack almost wiped out the city.
The only beneficiary of this destruction was the Baroque architect Johann Adam Breunig, who supplied replacement designs including including Baroque city palaces, a new main university building and other notable Altstadt buildings.
The early 18th century Alte Universität, planned by Breunig, is still one of the city's key buildings. The university was founded in 1386 during the great papal schism and was a sign of Heidelberg's prestige. The building was completed in 1735 after 23 years. The impressive main auditorium was redesigned late in the 19th century. The building also houses a university museum.
The Palais Morass is a showpiece Baroque house on the pedestrian thoroughfare Hauptstraße, completed in 1712 to Breunig's plans for the university rector. Its facade has an arched portal and balcony and the inside features include the largely intact Baroque grand staircase and banquet hall. Both are accessible. Upstairs is the Kurpfälzisches Museum, which contains the city’s art collections including Baroque sculptures.
The Palais Weimar was Bruenig's commission for the city military commander, the
grand duke Wilhelm Ernst von Sachsen-Weimar-Eisenach. It houses today's Völkerkundemuseum.
Breunig designed the Haus zum Riesen on Hauptstraße for yet another general, who is shown on the central sculpture by Heinrich Charrasky. The building used materials from the blown-up castle, which was for a time quarried for stone.
The Baroque Heilig Geist Jesuitenkirche in Schulgasse was attached to the Jesuit seminary and marks the Jesuit quarter next to the university. The choir was designed by Breunig and the nave was completed as part of a second rebuilding phase in the 1750s.
The 1701 Baroque Rathaus building was embellished sculpturally by Charrasky. This, however, replaced the building destroyed during the Thirty Years War. Attached buildings are later additions.
More Baroque buildings surround Karlsplatz. The appearance of the opulent Großherzogliches Palais has changed since Baroque times and the former grand ducal residence is now a science academy. The Mittermaierhaus is another ornate town house and the Boisserée Palais is the biggest of the group, but remodelled early in the 19th century. It now houses the university’s literature faculty.
The Neckar stone bridge known as Alte Brücke was erected late in the 1780s but only the tower helmets are Baroque, added to the bridge's medieval towers.
A city fire of 1662 put an end to the medieval Passau. The Gothic cathedral, except for the east end, was destroyed. A replacement was needed, and the cathedral of Salzburg about 100km away, already several decades old, set the pattern.
Italians were prominent in the rebuilding effort. To work on the new Dom St Stephan, the architect Carlo Lurago came from Prague and the artist Paolo d’Aglio from Lombardy. The stucco work is by Giovanni Battista Carlone of Genoa and the extensive frescoes by Swiss-born Carpoforo Tencalla tell the story of the stoning of the Greek martyr Stephen, patron of the church. The result is a stunning sensory experience, completed in 1682.
The Italians’ work extended to the rest of the old town, which on its tiny spit of land is very walkable for Baroque lovers. The Baroque city parish church of St Paul is a rebuilding by Carlo Antonio Carlone completed in 1678 near the former town wall. From its high perch its former tower stood much higher than the cathedral. Inside is a tall Baroque high altar, Baroque pulpit and high galleries.
Passau became a centre for theological studies and Jesuit scholars, who after the fire re-established their college and built a new church, the Italian Baroque Studienkirche St Michael. The church’s interior stucco was crafted by Giovanni Battista Carlone. The high altar and pulpit are ornate but the exterior is not.
Away from the city across the Inn, the monastery and pilgrimage church of Mariahilf became a pilgrimage centre after the emperor Leopold I prayed for the defeat of the Ottoman armies in 1683.
No result of the fire, the Baroque prince-bishops’ palace Neue Residenz at Residenzplatz appeared much later. The feature is an ornate staircase with stucco decoration by Carlone. There is also a Rococo ceiling fresco. Baroque books are in the bishops' library and Baroque art is part of the adjacent cathedral treasury, reached through the cathedral. The Wittelsbacher Brunn on Residenzplatz is early 20th century in spite of its Baroque look.