Cosmas Damian and Egid Quirin Asam

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Cosmas Damian and Egid Quirin Asam

The brothers Cosmas Damian (1686-1739) and Egid Quirin (1692-1750) Asam, German artists who worked in architecture, painting, and sculpture, of ten as a team, achieved in their works a unity of the arts unequaled in Bavaria during the late baroque period.

The Asam brothers were sons of the painter Hans Georg Asam. Cosmas Damian was born on Sept. 28, 1686, and Egid Quirin on Sept. 1, 1692. They received their early training from their father. The brothers went to Rome in 1711, where they absorbed the style of the Roman high baroque, particularly from the work of the architect and sculptor Gian Lorenzo Bernini and his followers. Upon their return to Bavaria, Cosmas Damian worked as a painter, and his brother continued his studies under the sculptor Andreas Faistenberger in Munich.

The brothers collaborated in 1718 in the construction and decoration of the church of the Benedictine Abbey of Weltenburg on the Danube, near Regensburg, their most famous creation. Cosmas Damian was the architect and painter, and Egid Quirin produced all the sculpture for this most dramatic achievement of the period in Bavaria. The illusionistic ceiling fresco and the sculpture of the high altar, St. George Slaying the Dragon, were finished in 1721. The church interior exploits all the illusionistic devices of the Roman baroque—a dynamic oval ground plan, hidden light sources, agitated sculptural forms, and brilliant color and gilding—to give the on-looker a feeling that he is witnessing a heavenly vision in surroundings suggestive of the wonders of Paradise.

The most spectacular of Egid Quirin's works is the lifesize polychromed Assumption of the Virginin the monastery church at Rohr (1718-1722). The group of the Virgin carried by angels floats, seemingly unsupported, in the air, above an altar conceived as a stage. Cosmas Damian executed numerous ceiling frescoes, including those for the church of St. Jakob, Innsbruck (1720-1723), the pilgrimage church at Einsiedeln in Switzerland (1723-1726), Brovnov Abbey near Prague (1731), and the abbey church at Osterhofen in Bavaria (1730-1735). All are noteworthy for complex and daring effects of perspective, rich color, and dramatic massing of figures, clearly revealing the influence of Roman ceiling painting, yet with a certain naive gaiety and heartiness that is distinctively Bavarian.

The last work on which the brothers collaborated was the house and attached church that Egid Quirin began to build in Munich in 1733 as his home and as a private chapel and votive offering. The small church of St. John Nepomuk (popularly called the Asam Church) is, after Weltenburg, the richest display of their respective talents. The ceiling fresco by Cosmas Damian was badly damaged in World War II. The sculpture and stucco decoration of the church are unsurpassed in their complexity, richness of color and forms, and unity of the whole. The group of the Holy Trinity, hanging above the altar, and the sculptures on the confessionals are among Egid Quirin's most startling and moving works.

Cosmas Damian died on May 11, 1739, before the church was finished, and Egid Quirin completed it. He died on April 29, 1750, in his house attached to the church.

Further Reading

The only works in English that discuss the Asam brothers at length are John Bourke, Baroque Churches of Central Europe (1958; 2d ed. 1962); Nicolas Powell, From Baroque to Rococo (1959); Eberhard Hempel, Baroque Art and Architecture in Central Europe (1965); and Henry-Russell Hitchcock, Rococo Architecture in Southern Germany (1968). The best monograph, in German, is Erika Hanfstaengl, Die Brüder Cosmas Damian und Egid Quirin Asam (1955), which also has the best photographs. □