Archive | August, 2012

Wurzburg

2 Aug

Wurzburg

We’ve already settled into a great rhythm of eating, drinking and sightseeing. Today we are going to visit the Wurzburg residence. After another sumptuous breakfast which included Vegemite toast being consumed. The weather looks good for a change. First off there was a lecture, France meets Germany, interesting facts about 2 nations with Daniel Gurtler in the lounge. It’s not eye opening but interesting none the less.

The geographical location of this pleasant city is the centre of Germany in the heart of Europe. Culturally speaking, for centuries it has also been a centre of the arts with beautiful architecture. The magnificent Residenz, a baroque masterpiece by the 18th century architect Balthasar Neuman is on the UNESCO cultural heritage list.

One of the largest city of Franconia, Wurzburg has a history dating back to 1,000 BC when Celtic tribes sought shelter on a hill ( now known as Marienberg ) on the left bank of the main river. The biggest I have been told on good authority, is Nuremburg. During the 7th century the Franconian Duchy was established and a small settlement grew on the rivers right bank. Because of the strategic river location, Wurzburg grew and prospered as a major market city and clerical centre. Under the Hapsburgs, Wurzburg became a member of the confederation of the Rhine and was eventually incorporated into Bavaria.

In 1945, just before the surrender of Germany, Wurzburg was all but destroyed by allied bombing. It lasted only 20 minutes, but more than 87% of the city was wiped out and some 4,000 inhabitants killed. Fortunately, many of the city’s famous buildings have been restored to their former splendour.

Today Wurzburg is a major industrial city manufacturing steel, paper and publishing presses, as well as wood, leather and electronic products. Wurzburg is also an academic centre, in fact it was at the university of Wurzburg that scientist Konrad Rontegen discovered the X-ray.

Wurzburg is located in the heart of the Franconian wine country and therefore Franconian wine, in unusually shaped bottles known as Bocksbeutal, is a souvenir to be savoured. There is also a local brewery, wurzburger Hofbrau, which brews excellant Weissbier ( wheat beer ).

The fresco painting that stretches across the almost seven-hundred square meter ceiling above the imperial stairway at the Würzburg Residenz is truly a modern marvel of Baroque art. Painted in 1752 by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, the ceiling really embodies the essence of the Baroque Period. After almost three-hundred years, the fresco remains in its entirety having never surrendered to the severity of time, decay or warfare.

At first glance, from the bottom of the staircase, the fresco causes a sensation of surprise. A slow walk up the stairs gradually reveals more and more of the scene, which, by the top stair, can only be described as uncommonly fantastic. Figures appear to jump out of the wall. A dog stands on a ledge sniffing Balthasar Neumann. Light cascades from wall to wall creating lifelike shadows that rival those cast by actual humans. The eyes are constantly tricked into wondering what is real, when in fact, it is all painted. It is obvious that the fresco was painted with certain axes of view in mind. When standing directly underneath the ceiling on the ground floor, the images become skewed and distorted. However, at certain points, (such as the mezzanine at the middle of the staircase), the three-dimensional illusion simply grabs one’s eyes.

The scene depicted is a work of pure genius all it’s own, embracing the spirit of the Baroque Period. Life is a feast, it is said. And all around the world, there is an overwhelming sense of festival. In America, the hunters and gatherers have their cornucopia and their barbecue. Africa has its exotic animals and traders. Asia rides atop an elephant, celebrating the birthplace of writing, science, and religion. These three sides of the earth all point toward the cultural capital of the world — Europe — and Würzburg specifically. The Würzburg musicians play as a host of angels lift a portrait of the Prince Bishop toward the heavens. All over the world, a spirit of festivity consumes the cultures. The rhythmic arrangement of the scenes adds movement to the fresco, which, in turn, adds to this festive mood. The use of chiaroscuro creates harmony and realism all across the fresco. As darker figures disappear into the background, the brightly lit figures are unified by the common light from Apollo. Courtesy of Allen Smith – July 12, 2004.

For me the next room was the one that really transfixed me, it was the white room. With an art work called stucco. I’ve had some trouble trying to find an explanation for this that sounded froody. I’ll settle for the description given to us by our local guide on the day. Basically you apply wet plaster to the wall, you have to work quickly with it before it dries. The artist will use cutting and sculpting implements that mould shapes and designs in the fresh plaster, it’s truly an amazing feat of magic as far as I’m concerned. Our guide also told us that the artist involved in the sculpting of the white room worked to a strict deadline, by the time he finished he went bonkers and had to be hospitalised, his most amazing work did his head in.

Another amazing thing about this residenz is the story about all the interior furniture, light chandeliers and many other pieces survived the war. How? Well they took everything down and boxed it into crates. What about the chandeliers I hear everyone asking? Won’t they have been damaged? No. They were essentially put into melted butter which solidified to protect the items. Then everything was shipped of to a mine and forgotten all about for quite a long time. They were in fact found decades later by accident and as a result this is one of the reasons this place has been preserved so well.

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