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13-15 sept. 2018, Hanovre-Herrenhausen : Connecting across Europe ? Ceiling Painting and Interior Design in the Courts of Europe around 1700

International Symposium organized by The Corpus of Baroque Ceiling Painting in Germany (CbDD) from Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität in Munich and The Bavarian Academy of Sciences and Humanities in cooperation with
● der Landeshauptstadt Hannover, Herrenhäuser Gärten,
● The Institute of History of Art and Musicology – IKM of the Austrian Academy of Sciences (ÖAW), and
● The Research Group for Baroque Ceiling Painting in Central Europe (BCPCE).

Mural Painting as a medium of social distinction of European courts around 1700

The Corpus of Baroque Ceiling Painting in Germany (CbDD) regards painting on walls and ceilings as a medium. In a courtly context, mural painting would serve the sovereign to define his status within the court society, just as he did otherwise in the fields of architecture or interior design.

Around 1700, a formal and thematic change can be observed in the choice of these media of social distinction, especially at the courts North of the Alps. In the field of mural painting it is striking in which way the ceiling is now no longer divided into multiple fields, but preferably dominated by one single monumental painting. This way mural painting can define the room. Monumentality resides in scale, and a new form of illusionism becomes important. The ’inganno degli occhi’, a highly sophisticated form of illusionism prevails. Mural painting on ceilings gains autonomy and as a medium it follows its own logic. Furthermore, walls and ceiling can now be set into one integrating decorative scheme. This change is not just a matter of form, but also a matter of content : Glorifications and personifications are no longer represented in the old-established way and subject to dynastic formulas but become more and more individualized and tailored for a specific patron.

Moreover, within the larger European context, mural painting should not be misunderstood as exclusively made in fresco or secco technique, or studied in isolation. The decision for oil painting on canvas or on walls seems - for a longer period of time - not only to have been a question of quality or of the possibility to hire a specialist, but also a question of esthetics. A large number of paintings on ceilings and especially on walls in Central- and Northern Europe have been painted on canvas and were adjusted on ceilings and walls. Stucco does also play an important role here, and seems to have been applied also in rooms of ’ higher rank’.

Possible reasons for the change in interior decoration

The Corpus of Baroque Ceiling painting in Germany (CbDD) wants to connect the described transformation in the field of mural painting with the political changes in Europe around 1700. This shift of focus occurs parallel to a new position of power established by the monarchs and their states. The sovereigns are now striving for an acknowledgment of their newly achieved status. Numerous territories and new princes within the Holy Roman Empire want to effect their new rights of sovereignty, just as the kingdoms of Sweden and England, or the court of the House of Orange in the Netherlands and, later, in England. Despite their basically anti-catholic orientation, motifs once established to mark protestant ideals, vanish, and patterns, before decidedly perceived as catholic, are taken over, and new forms of a supra-national and trans-confessional court culture of the nobility and the higher nobility develop in Western Europe.

It could be the case - so a central thesis - that the rise of new dynasties and powers was responsible for the developments described above. The rise of the house of Bourbon and the house of Savoy and the descent of the Spanish Habsburgs to their extinction - re the most striking examples. An independent trend seems to be the decline of artistic influence from the Netherlands in Northern Europe, giving way to anew influx of aesthetic ideas from France and Italy, depending on political alliances, as for example in England or in Brandenburg-Prussia.

It seems to be at least partially a fact, that the rising powers emphasize their new status while the old-established elites restrain themselves until new standards have had their break-through. Several of these new powers try to establish themselves in this way : Prussia, Poland under the house of Wettin, Russia, Sweden, England, France, Savoy and the house Braganza in Portugal. Within the Holy Roman Empire, as well as in the heritary lands of the house of Habsburg in Austria, several new princes can be named, but also the Elector of Bavaria and the Elector of Hannover.

Since these innovations take hold of Western Europe in general, we may consider them as part of a more general cultural adjustment process. It is therefore important to discuss, who set these new benchmarks (and why in this way) and who refused or opposed (and why). The deviation from the norms should not necessarily be misinterpreted as provinciality. It may eventually be a well-calculated instrument of princely authority. For it is the magnificence of the dynasties that it is all about. Here, an international comparison promises new insights.

In order to secure comparability, studies should focus exclusively on sovereigns and their courts. A ’Landesherr’ or sovereign is an independent ruler in Europe or within the territories belonging to the Holy Roman Empire of German Nation, ruled and governed by a monarch or sovereign, therefore also including the republics of Genova and Venice. Furthermore, it makes no difference, whether the buildings decorated with mural painting were set on their own territories or in other residential cities or estates, for example in Vienna or in Prague.

The Location of the Symposium

The Conference will take place at the so-called Galeriegebäude in Hannover-Herrenhausen. This festive building for the Electors of Hannover is an outstanding example for the change in court culture around 1700. The lost main building as well as the preserved Gallery-building, originally the Orangerie, were erected towards the end of the 17th century in the course of a rise in status and decorated with mural paintings by Tommaso Giusti. Around 1700, Elector Ernst August of Hannover took a bearing on Italy and commissioned a festive building entirely decorated with mural painting inside in the manner of country houses in Northern Italy or a Villa in the Veneto. His son Georg Ludwig, who in 1714 was to climb the throne of England as king Georg I, did not decide to have the main building of the residential palace of Herrenhausen erected in Italian forms after the death of his father. Instead, he choose to preserve the Gallery-building in the first decade of the 18th century, showing a more conservative attitude, reinforced a painted decoration on walls and ceilings after models from the Netherlands and France. In Herrenhausen we may therefore study two different role models side by side.

It is not widely known, that the court of Hannover was around 1700 a cultural center within the courtly world of Europe, well-connected and related with the most eminent dynasties in Central- and Northern Europe, as well as with the Imperial house of Habsburg. Around 1700, Hannover takes its place at the intersection of European powers and their strategies of visual representation ; and the location of the conference itself will also be the subject of discussion.


● Dynastic connections : Are there specific patterns of representation which could be related to dynastic connections ? Have dynastic marriages any impact on the choice of decorative schemes ?
● The impact of Confessions : Does the confession play a role in mural painting, for example in the representation of heaven : Did Catholics prefer to take a look into godliness, while Protestants depicted an image of divinity ? In which way do pictorial strategies follow confessional patterns or are they just following a fashion ?
● Iconographical and iconological Questions : What can we learn from a comparison of scenes from mythology, literature, personal and dynasty-related subjects, such as cycles from the Life of Eneas, the Fall of Phaeton, the apotheosis of an individual or a dynasty, personifications and allegories of the four seasons or the elements ecc., discussed from a transnational and trans-confessional point of view ?

Project directed by :
Prof. Dr. Stephan Hoppe (Munich), Dr. Herber Karner (Vienna), Dr. Heiko Laß (Munich/Hannover)


Corpus der barocken Deckenmalerei in Deutschland
Dr. Heiko Laß
Institut für Kunstgeschichte
Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München
Zentnerstr. 31
D-80798 München
E-mail : heiko.lass chez