Since its completion in 1760, the Würzburg Residence has been one of the most glamorous royal courts in Europe. The magnificent overall building based on plans by Balthasar Neumann (1687–1753) presents itself as a horseshoe-shaped complex with a central courtyard and two inner courtyards in each of the side wings. The residence is considered an ideal work of the Baroque, in which architecture, painting and stucco are combined in top form. The highlight of the Würzburg Residence is the staircase with the largest connected ceiling fresco by the Venetian artist Giovanni Battista Tiepolo.
Würzburg Residence and Court Garden: Facts
|Official title:||Würzburg Residence and Court Garden|
|Cultural monument:||Former prince-bishop’s residence|
|Location:||Wurzburg am Main|
|Meaning:||as a “synthesis of European baroque” one of the largest and most beautiful German baroque palaces|
Würzburg Residence and Court Garden: History
|1719-44||Built for Prince-Bishop Johann Philipp Franz von Schönborn and his successors as the “Castle of All Palaces” with five halls and 300 rooms|
|1742-45||Cabinet of mirrors created as the most perfect spatial work of art of the Rococo|
|1752/53||Over 600 m² ceiling painting “The Glorification of the Prince-Bishop as a Patron of the Arts” by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo (1696-1770)|
|1765-80||Layout of the baroque gardens|
|until 1801||Bishop’s residence, then property of Bavaria|
|March 1945||Damage from British air raid|
|until 1987||Restoration work with subsequent reopening of the mirror cabinet, which was destroyed in 1945|
Europe’s largest rectory
For travelers from the Protestant north, Würzburg’s nuns, bridge saints and “Bocksbeutel” embody a first touch of the splendor of the south. “It is simply lucky to look at this landscape, at this city, its river and the wine that grows around it,” enthused the features editor and writer Wolfgang Koeppen, while the creator of the “Broken Jug”, the writer Heinrich von Kleist, mocked: “The whole city is teeming with saints, apostles and angels, and when you walk through the streets you think you are walking through the heaven of Christians.” Strictly speaking, the residence is the work of three prince-bishops from the Schönborn family, who transformed the diocese of Würzburg “into a representative ballroom” and gave shape to their lust for fame and splendor with magnificent buildings for eternity; which, above all, underlined their absolutist claims with the pompous palace construction. Even if Napoleon of Würzburg is said to have dismissed it as “Europe’s largest parsonage”, the residence is widely praised by art historians as the most beautiful palace of the South German Baroque according to thesciencetutor.
When Johann Philipp Franz von Schönborn was elected Prince-Bishop of Würzburg at the beginning of the 18th century, he considered the Marienberg Fortress, enthroned high above the Main, to be out of date; down in town he wanted to reside in a splendid castle, in keeping with his rank. Balthasar Neumann, who was still virtually unknown at the time, was appointed master builder of this palace complex, and he got to work with great enthusiasm. As it soon turned out, this was an extremely successful choice. Initial drafts envisaged a front length of 170 meters for the castle. The residence was only given the great depth of over 90 meters after the Prince-Bishop had received half a million guilders from a process, which was immediately used for the construction of the palace. When Johann Philipp Franz von Schönborn died a few years after construction began, only a fifth of the palace was completed. As a successor, his brother Friedrich Karl von Schönborn vigorously pushed ahead with the completion of the palace building, on which the glory of the Schönborn family had long been attached. However, it was not until Prince-Bishop Greiffenklau, a nephew of the Schönborns, that the construction work on the Würzburg residence could be completed.
Balthasar Neumann designed a three-wing complex that encloses a well-proportioned courtyard and four inner courtyards. The showpiece of the residence is the staircase, the cantilevered vault of which adorns the largest ceiling painting in the world. It is a painted praise for the prince-bishops’ aesthetic and artistic sense. Due to its harmoniously merged proportions, the staircase conveys a feeling of weightlessness and a unique spatial experience that testifies to the ingenious technical skills of the builder Balthasar Neumann. Without static calculations as it is today, the former bell-founder apprentice succeeded in arching the huge staircase without any support – an achievement that even modern construction engineers do not dare to copy. The White Hall, decorated with magnificent stucco work, leads from the stairwell into the lavishly furnished Imperial Hall. In this most representative room of the residence, Prince-Bishop Greiffenklau had his political ideas of the union of secular and ecclesiastical power implemented: a fresco shows Emperor Barbarossa conferring the ducal dignity of the Bishop of Würzburg.
Without question, the interior of the Hofkirche is also adapted to the style of the residence and is one of the most magnificent church rooms of the 18th century. The representative character of the Würzburg residence is rounded off by the sculpture-adorned courtyard garden, which extends as a mixture of rococo complex and English landscape park to the baroque fortress bastions.