Romanesque -- Bavarian art, as we know it today, had its beginning during the 10th and early 11th centuries, an era identified as the Ottonian period in honor of Emperor Otto I. Builders and stonemasons, virtually all anonymous, built churches whose principles of engineering were based on adaptations of the basilica developed centuries earlier by the ancient Romans. Noteworthy features included barrel vaults, rounded arches, very thick walls, and (usually) symmetrical, rather squat towers.
Today, the few Romanesque buildings that remain intact are among the most cherished in Germany. They are the first architectural flowering of a nation that centuries later developed architecture and engineering into art forms in their own right.
Decorative ivories, crucifixes, and book illuminations were also characteristic of the Romanesque Age. Monasteries established painting schools, but most of that period's paintings have deteriorated or disappeared.
The typically Romanesque Cathedral of Speyer was the 12th-century prototype for the imperial cathedrals in Mainz and Worms. Door carvings, bronze figures of Christ, and stained glass from this period show striking force despite their crudity. Ironically, Munich is not the best place in Germany for insights into this early style of architecture. Although during the city's earliest days, Romanesque architecture dominated the town's low skyline, a series of disastrous fires, the most severe of which occurred in 1327, and the destructive power of medieval rot caused most of them to be modified and rebuilt during later eras into whatever was fashionable at the time.
Munich's oldest parish church, St. Peter's, is a good example of this. Built on the site of four small churches in the dim prehistory of Munich, when the town was little more than a riverside enclave of Benedictine monks, it was reconstructed in the late 1100s, then rebuilt again after the city's disastrous fire of 1327. Its foundations date from the dim early medieval days of Munich, although its superstructure, including a bell tower, is from around 1386. Compounding the relative newness of that church is the fact that most of its interior decor, statues, sarcophagi, and frescoes date from the l400s and l500s. In other words, admire this church for its Gothic splendor and venerable age, but not as a pure example of Romanesque.
Gothic Architecture -- Gothic architecture allowed bigger and more impressive buildings, higher and thinner walls, taller belfries, and -- thanks to "broken" (that is, pointed) arches and flying buttresses -- larger windows than the small and rather dark openings that illuminated Romanesque buildings. This architectural style flowered in Europe (especially in northern France) between the 13th and 16th centuries, and because of the many communal activities that were needed for its successful execution, it encouraged the growth of trade, commerce, and such satellite industries as woodcarving and the making of stained glass. The Romanesque influence remained pervasive, however, and Gothic design never established as strong a foothold in Germany as it did in France and England. The greatest of the German Gothic cathedrals, the Dom at Cologne, was begun in 1284 but was not completed, as astonishing as it may sound, until 1880.
Perhaps most representative of the German Gothic period is the hall-type church (Hallenkirche), which originated in Westphalia. It was characterized by aisles constructed at the same height as the nave, separated from the nave by tall columns. Many of these churches were built during the late Gothic period, the 14th and 15th centuries, a period of great artistic growth in Germany. In Munich, the Gothic style peaked during a period of great prosperity and civic growth. Excellent examples within the city limits include the somber brick profile of the Frauenkirche. Its cornerstone was laid by Duke Sigismund in 1468 on the site of a decrepit Romanesque basilica, whose raw materials, along with the headstones from a nearby graveyard, were incorporated into the new structure. The towers were completed in 1525, as part of a rapid construction that reflected the civic muscle of Munich at the time.
The Renaissance -- The art and architecture of the Renaissance, which began in Italy around 1520 and lasted a century, never became widespread within northern Germany, where motifs from Flanders (southern Belgium) and Holland were much more popular. As the prosperity of the rich trading centers of the Hanseatic League grew, they adopted a distinctive design (the Weser Renaissance) almost never seen in the south. Historians attribute the lack of Renaissance motifs to the fact that the emerging Protestant principalities of northern Germany tended to reject Italian and most baroque influences as being too closely tied to the Catholic sensibility.
That was the exact opposite of the situation with Munich and most of the rest of southern Germany, where baroque motifs inspired directly by Italy ran rampant in a city that defined itself as the capital of the Counter-Reformation. The movement's most spectacular example of Counter-Reformation zeal appears in the form of the massive St. Michael's Church. The largest baroque building north of the Alps, and loaded with references to Catholic iconography that defied the growing power of the Protestants farther to the north, it was begun in 1583, and erected and embellished within a record-breaking 14 years. It was built during a pompous and superstitious era. One of its towers collapsed during the seventh year of its construction. Its royal patron, Duke Wilhelm V, interpreted the accident as a sign of displeasure from God that the building wasn't impressive enough. Consequently, it was enlarged and modified into an airy and soaring interior you'll see today. A victim of intense aerial bombardment, it was laboriously rebuilt as a symbol of civic pride after World War II.
Other examples of Renaissance Art in southern Germany include the funerary chapel of Fugger the Rich, in Augsburg, and the entire inner core of the town of Rothenburg on the Romantic Road.
Baroque, Neoclassicism and Romanticism -- Baroque style, an Italian import whose influence in Germany began around 1660 and continued into the 18th century, brought a different kind of renaissance to Germany. The baroque swept southern Germany, especially Munich and Bavaria, permeating hundreds of Alpine villages with the reassuring form of onion-shaped domes thrusting skyward between snowcapped peaks. Architectural forms no longer followed regular patterns, as individual artists and craftsmen were granted increased freedom and more variety in design. The German and Danubian baroque artists, such as those of the Vorarlberg School, sought to give an impression of movement to their florid building designs. The splendor of the period is exemplified in the work of such architects as Lukas von Hildebrandt and J. B. Fischer von Erlach. Munich, as the economic and cultural focal point of south Germany, moved into prominence as a seat of art and architecture.
The baroque movement eventually dipped its brushes into the flippant paint of the rococo, and that movement brought even greater freedom and gaiety. Examples of architecture from this period are scattered throughout Bavaria, although within Munich, many were damaged, then rebuilt after wartime destruction. Examples of rococo include the Asamkirche (Asam Church), completed in 1746, the Mariensäule (column of the Virgin) which dominates the Marienplatz, and -- inside the Residenz -- the Cuvilliés Theater. Another excellent example is the Theatinerkirche, built by Prince Elector Ferdinand Maria in 1662 in gratitude for the birth of his heir, Max Emanuel. Its construction was among the most complicated in Munich because of its completion date more than a century after its inauguration.
Many of these monuments were filled with frescoes commemorating heroic, sacrificial, or transcendental deeds of martyrs, saints, and angels descending on clouds to manifest themselves to the faithful in the church below.
By the 19th century, many members of the rising and prosperous middle class in Germany preferred to decorate their homes in the Biedermeier style, with its lighter designs and carefully balanced symmetry. By now the baroque and rococo styles were dead (the French Revolution, with its de-emphasis on the decorative themes of the ancient regime, had seen to that).
Neoclassicism, with its references to the grandeur of ancient Greece and imperial Rome, became the venue of choice. Once again, the south of Germany brought a lighter touch to this style than did the north. Munich was particularly receptive to this mode. Between 1825 and 1848, Munich and its transformation into a suitably royal capital became the arena for bitter conflicts between the royal patrons and their royal architects, who usually defended every nuance of their designs with something approaching obsessive mania. At least part of Munich's neoclassical grandeur derived from the autocratic Crown Prince Ludwig's (later Ludwig I) devotion to the style. Many of the buildings erected during this era exist thanks to his direct intervention between 1825 and 1848. Examples include the Alte Pinakothek (begun in 1826, and at the time the largest art gallery in the world), the Königsplatz, the Glyptothek, and, within the Residenz complex, the Königsbau (King's Building).
An emphasis on painting, however, did not follow in as fertile a mode as that associated with architecture. Although the city had wonderful art collections -- in 1698, Max Emanuel had spent vast amounts of money on the core of what eventually became the Alte Pinakothek collection -- most were imported from outside of Munich. Later, the autocratic Ludwig I focused on acquiring early German masters, including Dürer, and such early Italian paintings such as Giotto, Botticelli, and da Vinci.
The Romantic Movement followed the neoclassical period. For inspiration in this neo-Gothic arena, which was loaded with political implications for Germany's sense of national identity, architects looked back to a rose-colored interpretation of Germany's medieval history, myth, and folklore. Permeating much of it was an almost obsessive rebirth of interest in Teutonic lore, myth, and legend, as expounded by such writers as the Brothers Grimm and Goethe, or such composers as Richard Wagner.
Neo-medieval, or Neo-Romantic buildings from the era include the Staatsbibliothek (State Library), the University complex, and such focal points along the Ludwigstrasse as the Feldherrnhalle, the Siegestor, the Mariahilf-Kirche, the Church of St. Boniface, and the New Pinakothek.
The era that characterized German architecture in the latter 1800s is often termed Historicism. No one represented this flamboyant and eclectic movement better than Ludwig II of Bavaria at his palace Neuschwanstein. Outrageously ornate, with all the fairy-tale ornamentation you'd expect from a Teutonic version of Disneyland, it's one of the major tourist attractions of modern Germany. The most prominent painter of the era was Franz von Lenbach, a socially prominent portraitist who painted virtually every important person of his era from the premises of a lavish villa that today functions as a museum, the Lenbachhaus. His contemporary, Franz von Stuck, greeted his disciples in the costume of a Roman emperor, and painted works that later modernists considered unbearably pompous.
From Jugendstil to Modernism -- By the end of the 19th century, the Art Nouveau movement -- called Jugendstil in German after the magazine Jugend (Youth) was established in Munich in 1896. It swept the country and marked the distant beginnings of contemporary architecture. It was characterized by mass production and solid, semi-industrialized construction, as architects used such materials as glass, steel, and concrete, usually crafted into curved lines inspired by the sinuous forms of nature.
In the aftermath of World War I, Walter Gropius (1883-1969) gained prominence as leader of the Bauhaus movement. Art and technique were wed at this architectural school whose primary aim was to unify Arts and Crafts within the context of architecture. Its appeal derived from the changing sensibilities of the Industrial Age, as well as from the need for cost-effective construction techniques during an era of rising costs and exploding demand for housing. He stressed the idea of functional designs that reflected the tastes of the postindustrial revolution. Founded at Weimar and directed there by Gropius from 1919, it moved to Dessau in 1925. (Gropius eventually settled in the United States.) For a variety of personal and political reasons, the movement was formally dissolved in 1933, but not before its influence had been felt in Munich and around the rest of Europe as well.
By around 1935, the so-called National Socialist, or Third Reich, style of architecture was the law of the land, with Munich (site of most of Hitler's earliest successes) providing the experimental background for many of its ideas. Under Hitler and such designers as Albert Speer, art and architecture became propaganda tools, pompous, monumental, innately frightening, and devoid of any real humanity.
Postwar Munich did its best to conceal the Nazi roots of some of its buildings, skillfully transforming them into more humanitarian venues. An example is the Zentralministerium (Central Ministry), a predictably pompous but anonymous building on the Von-der-Tann-Strasse, cutting through the otherwise orderly progression of the Ludwigstrasse. An even better example, recycled after the war into an art gallery, is the Staatsgalerie Moderner Kunst (State Gallery of Modern Art). Originally erected between 1933 and 1937, its angular Fascist architecture seems curiously appropriate for the starkly modern paintings it showcases today. Ironically, virtually everything inside would have been outlawed as "degenerate" by the Nazis who built it originally. Fortunately, the Führer's dream of rebuilding a war-torn Munich in his preferred architectural style eventually collapsed.
One sad legacy of World War II was the virtual leveling of many of Germany's greatest architectural treasures by Allied bombing raids. Notable among these tragedies was the destruction of Dresden, until 1945 one of the most beautiful cities of Europe. More than 50 years after its firebombing by British and American planes, its loss is felt more poignantly than that of any other city. Munich fared better, not because it wasn't blasted apart (45% of its buildings were destroyed, all the others damaged in some way), but because it had the economic muscle to rebuild itself. Today, this is just one of the ongoing sources of jealousy and envy that sparks controversy between such prosperous enclaves as Munich and Frankfurt and newly emerging economies in what used to be Germany's Soviet bloc. On-site witnesses claim that the first 2 years after the end of the war were devoted almost exclusively to clearing away the rubble. In some cases, the architectural rubble of Munich's past was swept away, never to be restored. However, many cathedrals, churches, houses, town halls, and other buildings were laboriously (at enormous expense) reconstructed in the original style.
Unlike more ancient German cities as Cologne, which has reconstructed a dozen Romanesque churches, Munich's emphasis on postwar building focused on the baroque, the neoclassical, and the neo-medieval, of which it had been particularly rich before the conflicts. Regrettably (but understandably), many of Munich's postwar buildings, both domestic and commercial, were hastily erected more for convenience than for architectural grandeur. However, in the prosperous Germany of today, there has been an intense interest and concern for elegance and style in modern architecture.
In painting and sculpture, the often dreary, imitative art of the 19th century in Munich, with its emphasis on historical subjects, gave way to 20th-century vitality. Often deliberately "revolutionary" and shocking, the works of many of these artists were labeled as decadent and many were destroyed during the Third Reich, when painting was supposed to express the ideals of National Socialism. The new century began with the expressionist school, whose haunted, tormented view of the world was inspired by Van Gogh as well as Scandinavia's greatest painter, Edvard Munch. Expressionism grew out of the work of Die Brücke (the Bridge), a group of artists founded in 1905. Artists in Munich, as well as those throughout Germany, reacted strongly (favorably or unfavorably) to the input from this iconoclastic, Berlin-based group of painters and theoreticists.
Another major artistic movement, Der Blaue Reiter (the Blue Rider), was developed in Munich in 1911 by Franz Marc and Wassily Kandinsky, an expatriate Russian. Later, August Macke and Paul Klee reinforced the movement. Absorbed by the Romantic and the lyrical, their dreamy works influenced abstract painting in the decades to come. Disillusioned by the ravages of World War I, the group disbanded after the political crises of 1918.
If the Blue Riders wanted to free art from rigid constraints, the dadaists carried such a desire to the ultimate. However, at the same time, such eminent artists as George Grosz (1893-1959) practiced a brutal realism. This painter and graphic artist, who immigrated to the United States in 1932, was noted for his satirical pictures of German society and of war and capitalism.
Art developed during the postwar era with what critics described as a frenzy of energy, and architecture zoomed into bursts of creative energy, sparked by the urgent need of Munich to expand into the computer age. This outburst of creativity produced dozens of young artists; so many, in fact, that a widely accepted way for Münchners to meet and greet one another is at any of the hundreds of art openings sponsored within the city every year.
What, you might ask, is a kir royale? Other than a bubbly drink composed of currant juice and champagne, it refers to the scornful adage applied (usually by artists from the more cerebral and high-strung milieu of Berlin) to Münchner art lovers who appreciate the parties and vernissages of the art world more than the paintings themselves. As in New York, Düsseldorf, or Paris, dozens of artists continue to produce canvases in Munich, struggling as best they can to ride the fine line between their inner artistic vision and the demands of the marketplace.
François Cuvilliés: Dwarf with a Big Talent
In the 17th and 18th centuries, Bavaria's rulers were determined to rival Rome itself. In the cutthroat competition for commissions that followed, an unlikely candidate emerged for the role of Munich's most brilliant master of the rococo style.
François Cuvilliés (1695-1768) was a dwarf born in Belgium. Like many of his peers, he was first a pageboy and later court jester to Max Emanuel, elector of Bavaria. When the elector was exiled, François accompanied him; in St-Cloud near Paris, he absorbed his patron's interest in the aesthetics of French baroque architecture. Ambitious and witty, he won Max Emanuel's friendship and support. When the elector was reinstated with pomp and ceremony as ruler of Bavaria, François became a craftsman for the court's chief architect.
Cuvilliés proved himself so talented that in 1720 Max Emanuel sent him for a 4-year apprenticeship to one of the leading architects of Paris, Jacques-François Blondel. After his return to Munich, his work soon eclipsed that of his master. By 1745, the former jester had been elevated to chief architect to the Bavarian court.
His commissions between 1726 and his death in 1768 include some of southern Germany's most important rococo monuments, such as the interior of the Amalienburg Pavilion in the park of Nymphenburg Palace and the facade of the Theatinerkirche. His most famous creation is the remarkable Altes Residenztheater, familiarly called by his name. All his work is notable for a flamboyant sinuousness.
Cuvilliés's son, François Cuvilliés the Younger (1731-77), also became an architect, although he never achieved the greatness of his father. Most notably, he put the finishing touches on the facade of the Theatinerkirche, which his father had left unfinished at his death.
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