François Cuvilliés

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François Cuvilliés

François Cuvilliés (1695-1768) was a Flemish-born, French-trained architect, interior decorator, and ornament designer who brought to Munich the new rococo style and produced there, particularly in the Amalienburg and the court theater, masterpieces of the Bavarian rococo.

François Cuvilliés was born a dwarf in Soignies, Hainaut, on Oct. 23, 1695. Discovered about 1706 by Prince Elector Maximilian Emmanuel of Bavaria, who was in exile in Flanders, Cuvilliés was educated with the court pages, although he was officially the court dwarf. He returned with Maximilian Emmanuel from exile to Munich in 1715 and was allowed to work with the court architect, Joseph Effner.

Maximilian Emmanuel then sent Cuvilliés to Paris in 1720 to study under François Blondel the Younger, where he remained until 1724. On his return to Munich, Cuvilliés was appointed court architect in 1725, thus beginning his long career in the service of the house of Wittelsbach, the rulers of Bavaria. For them he produced such works as Schloss Brühl and the so-called Reiche Zimmer (the "rich rooms") and the Green Gallery of the Residenz in Munich between 1730 and 1737.

Cuvilliés's masterpiece, and one of the finest creations of the Bavarian rococo, is the famous Amalienburg, a hunting lodge built for the electress Maria Amalia on the grounds of the summer palace at Nymphenburg outside of Munich. This small palace, single-storied and with only six main rooms, is, in its exterior, very plain, but its interior, particularly the central round mirrored hall, decorated in pale blue and silver, and the flanking bedroom and sitting room, decorated in deep yellow and silver, are the masterpieces of Cuvilliés and Johann Baptist Zimmermann, who produced the stucco decoration after Cuvilliés's designs. The simplicity of the layout of the main rooms forms a suitable foil for the rich and fantastic ornament of the walls, the mirrors, and the doors, and even some of the furniture, especially the console tables of the central hall, all designed by Cuvilliés.

Cuvilliés repeated his triumph in the small court theater he built in the Residenz at Munich (1751-1753). Although the theater was destroyed during World War II, all the furnishings, the paneling, and carved decoration were saved; they were fully restored and are now installed inside the Residenz. The court theater is known as the Cuvilliés Theater, in honor of the architect. Cuvilliés other works in Munich are the Hohnstein Palace, now the Archbishop's Palace (1733-1737), the Preysing Palace (1740), and the facade of the Theatine church (1765-1768). Outside of Munich, the churches of Berg am Laim, Diessen, Schäftlarn, and Benediktbeuren all have altars or rooms decorated by Cuvilliés.

During the last 30 years of his life Cuvilliés also produced many designs for decorations and ornament, which, engraved and sold as pattern books, served to spread his personal mixture of French and German rococo throughout central Europe. His son, François Cuvilliés the Younger (1731-1777), assisted his father, engraved his designs, and, after the elder Cuvilliés's death on April 14, 1768, completed many of his works.

Further Reading

In English, the following surveys deal with Cuvilliés: John Bourke, Baroque Churches of Central Europe (1958; 2d ed. 1962); Nicholas 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). □

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François Cuvilliés

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