Johann Baptist and Domenikus Zimmermann

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Johann Baptist and Domenikus Zimmermann

The work of the German stuccoworker and painter Johann Baptist Zimmermann (1680-1758) and his architect brother, Domenikus Zimmermann (1685-1766), epitomizes the Bavarian rococo style. Their masterpiece is the church of Die Wies.

Both the Zimmermann brothers were born at Gaispoint near Wessobrun, Johann Baptist on Jan. 3, 1680, and Domenikus on June 30, 1685. The region was famous for its artisans who worked in colored stucco made in imitation of marble (Stuckmarmor or stucco lustro), and the brothers were trained in this craft at the abbey of Wessobrun. Domenikus also became a master mason, while Johann Baptist became a fresco painter after studying in Augsburg, the leading center for artistic training of the day. They practiced extensively as stucco designers and stuccoworkers, although after 1724 Domenikus dedicated himself almost exclusively to architecture and Johann Baptist concentrated more and more on fresco painting.

Outstanding among the churches designed by Domenikus are the pilgrimage churches at Steinhausen (1727-1731) and Günzburg (1736-1741), where he worked on the perennial problem of combining a central-plan church with a longitudinal one. He executed an oval nave surrounded by arcades that provide an ambulatory in the one; the choir extends beyond the nave in the form of a transverse oval in the other. These churches were designed so that the processions of devout pilgrims could move around without interference. At Steinhausen the pale pastel interior is brilliantly lighted by large windows and is richly, but sparingly, decorated with rocaille ornament of supreme craftsmanship and fantastic inventiveness. The whole nave is topped with a brightly colored fresco by Johann Baptist.

The collaboration of the Zimmermanns culminated in the church of Die Wies (1745-1754), an isolated little pilgrimage church in the middle of a forest clearing not far from Steingaden in Upper Bavaria. It is one of the greatest achievements of the Bavarian rococo. There Domenikus used, amalgamated into a dazzling unity, the ideas he had worked out in his other two oval churches. The white nave with its touches of gold, the richly colored sanctuary, and particularly the fantastic ornament and the gaily colored ceiling fresco (1750) by Johann Baptist make Die Wies an unforgettable experience. It is Domenikus's masterpiece, from which he apparently could not tear himself away, for he lived at Wies for the rest of his life and died there on Nov. 16, 1766.

Johann Baptist also produced many works independently. After his appointment to the court at Munich in 1720, he worked with the court architects Joseph Effner and François Cuvilliés on the fresco decoration of the palace at Schleissheim and in 1726 at Nymphenburg and in the Residenz, Munich. From 1734 on he worked under Cuvilliés at the Amalienburg, creating some of his finest stucco ornament for its interior. Johann Baptist also produced frescoes for the churches at Vilgertshofen (1734), Berg am Laim (1739-1744), and Dietramszell (1744). He decorated the church of St. Peter, Munich (1753-1756); the churches at Andechs (1754) and Schäftlarn (1754-1756); the ceiling of the Residenz Theater (1752-1753; the only part of the theater destroyed in World War II); and the ceiling of the Great Hall at Nymphenburg Palace (1756-1757), where he also designed some of his most effervescent ornament. He died in February 1758 in Munich.

Further Reading

The Zimmermann brothers are dealt with directly in Henry-Russell Hitchcock, German Rococo: The Zimmermann Brothers (1968). They figure in the major surveys of the period: Nicholas Powell, From Baroque to Rococo (1959); John Bourke, Baroque Churches of Central Europe (1962); Eberhard Hempel, Baroque Art and Architecture in Central Europe (1965); and Henry-Russell Hitchcock, Rococo Architecture in Southern Germany (1968). □