NEUMANN, Johann Balthasar


NEUMANN, Johann Balthasar
(1687-1753)
   Balthasar Neumann is known today as the leading Rococo architect of the early 18th century in Europe. Born in Bohemia, he moved to Würzburg, Germany, in 1711, and in 1717 he began to work for the prominent Schönborn family, who held the prince-bishopric of Würzburg. The Rococo style originated at the beginning of the century in the courtly culture centered in Paris, and from there it rapidly spread to the ma-jor courts of Europe, becoming specifically popular in Germany and Austria. Although the Rococo grew out of the preceding Baroque style of architecture, it replaced Baroque monumentality and classi-cal organizational features with a more intimate style. Even large Rococo exteriors appear smaller and more personal, with their rounded corners and ornate decoration, while the interiors, which re-ceived a greater architectural focus during this time, have curved walls and rounded ceilings. This intimacy did not suggest social fa-miliarity between classes, however, for the very ornate, richly gilded Rococo interiors are purely aristocratic. The royal Residenz in Würzburg, built from 1719 to 1744, typifies this style. The invited guest would be entertained in the Kaisersaal, or Imperial Hall, an oval-shaped room lavishly decorated with marble floors, gilded wood, stucco walls, and an intricately curved, vaulted ceiling fea-turing pastel frescoes painted by the Italian artist Giovanni Battista Tiepolo. Windows on the walls and round clerestory windows allow dappling light to reflect off the crystal chandeliers. Modeled on the Baroque Hall of Mirrors at Versailles, the Kaisersaal is more ornate and playful in its decoration.
   This style is also effectively used by Neumann in church design, seen in his famous Vierzehnheiligen, built near Staffelstein, Ger-many, from 1743 to 1772 as a pilgrimage church dedicated to 14 saints known as the "14 Holy Helpers." This massive church, whose tall towers are rounded at the corners and flank an undulating central bay, is both monumental and intimately elegant. Inside, Neumann uses an ingenious system of six overlapping ovals in the floor plan.
   The Roman Baroque architect Francesco Borromini was the first to base his ground plans on the oval shape, making them a feature of Baroque architecture, but Neumann's interlocking ovals of different sizes is even more sophisticated. Despite this complexity, Neumann's interior is so well organized that a colonnade, despite its curvatures, directs the visitor toward the richly decorated high altar at the eastern end of the church. A large shrine anchors the center of the nave and is dedicated to the 14 patron saints of the church. One of the most beautiful Rococo churches in existence, the Vierzehnheiligen re-mains an important pilgrimage church today.

Historical Dictionaries of Literature and the Arts. . 2008.

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