Asam Family

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ASAM FAMILY. The most important members of this family of German architects, painters, sculptors, and stucco workers are Cosmas Damian (16861739) and Egid Quirin (16921750). Both initially trained with their father, the fresco painter Hans Georg (16491711). Cosmas Damian then studied painting at the Accademia di San Luca in Rome, probably 17111713; Egid Quirin apprenticed with sculptor Andreas Faistenberger 17111716 in Munich, perhaps visiting Rome in 1716.

The brothers worked extensively in fresco and sculpture (primarily Cosmas Damian), and stucco (primarily Egid Quirin), and were involved with a dozen church projects. The interiors, which combine inventive creations of architectural space and light shaped by fresco, sculpture, and stucco in the service of complex religious programs, are their most distinctive and brilliant achievements. They integrated architecture and the arts within settings that were simultaneously emotional and rational, sensual and compassionate, and that pitted victor against vanquished and the marvelous against nature. They also employed contrasts of light and dark as well as stillness and movement. The tensions of encounter and confrontation within these interiors were intended to embrace the churchgoer in a dazzling display of persuasion. The brothers would have seen work produced during the seventeenth century in Rome by such artists as Bernini and Cortona that explored a visual rhetoric for Counter-Reformation purposes, but the scale, brilliance, and sweep of their own creations produced a very different experiential realm.

Immediately upon completing their training, the brothers began work on what would turn out to be two of their greatest projects. In 1716 Cosmas Damian designed the church for the Benedictine monastery at Weltenburg bei Kelheim, located on the Danube west of Regensburg; the following year at nearby Rohr, Egid Quirin produced the Augustinian priory church and its spectacular high altar of the Assumption of Mary.

Weltenburg (17161735) was a collaborative work, to which Egid Quirin contributed the stucco and over-life-sized altar sculpture. Within the oval plan, bracketed by a rectangular space for the entrance and organ balcony at one end, and at the opposite end by a similar rectangle (with apse) for the choir, the brothers dramatically transformed the interior by means of chapels, sculpture, paintings, frescoes, contrasts of color and light, a dome that opens to an illusionistic fresco above it, and a choir composed as a proscenium stage. This space, complete with loggia boxes and an architectural stage set, features a St. George astride a spirited horse, lancing the dragon to his right and rescuing the princess to his left, and a fresco on the rearward apse wall ablaze in light. All of these media and effects are orchestrated to bring the history and legends of St. Benedict to life, and celebrate the glory of the church.

At Rohr, Egid Quirin designed a traditional Latin cross basilica, the shape of which was determined in part by existing foundations and sections of wall from the medieval church it replaced. But Egid Quirin also employed this deliberately oldfashioned interior to contrast with the dazzling vision of Mary's ascension that overwhelms the choir and visually determines the interior. Located well behind altar and choir stalls, and staged within a setting of richly colored architecture, complete with sarcophagus and tapestry, the sculptural reenactment of the Assumption employs figures of porcelain white with gilt highlights who witness Mary's ascension into a blaze of golden light and cloud.

Several years later, in 1725, Egid Quirin designed a project for a centralized chapel dedicated to the Holy Spirit that is as audacious as Rohr was conservative; a drawing shows the project in elevation and section. The lively exterior contains an extraordinary, multilevel architecture inside: free-standing stairs curve up to a balcony covered by small half domes, and they in turn support an internal dome broadly cut away to reveal a fresco above. The extreme animation of the architecture, and the multilevel spatial experience of the airy, openwork forms inside, suggest a revolutionary architecture in which solid elements are honed to thin surfaces and linear elements set within an interior of stunning spatial complexity. Later centralized churches by the brothers, such as that for St. Ursula in Straubing (17361741), did not attain the audacity of this project.

The brothers were also involved with several longitudinal but unitary buildings, of which two stand out. One, a monumental version of a house chapel, is in Munich, dedicated to St. Johann Nepomuk and known as the Asam Church since they built it for themselves at their own expense. The other is Freising Cathedral, a remodeling of the interior of the existing medieval building. Despite the very different physical conditions and sizes of these buildings, the brothers transformed both interiors through the illusionistic use of stucco and fresco, and the orchestration of light from multiple sources.

See also Architecture ; Baroque.


Bushart, Bruno, and Bernhard Rupprecht, eds. Cosmas Damian Asam, 16861739: Leben und Werk. 3rd rev. ed. Munich, 1986.

Rupprecht, Bernhard. Die Brüder Asam, Sinn und Sinnlichkeit im bayerischen Barock. Regensburg, 1980.

Sauermost, Heinz Jürgen. Die Asams als Architekten. Munich, 1986.

Christian Otto